On Jan. 8, the Law Division of the New Jersey Superior Court published a decision which could have far-reaching effects on how New Jersey school districts provide access to student records.
In C.G. v. Winslow Twp. Bd. of Educ., special education parents filed a public records request, seeking access to e-mail correspondence and special education settlement agreements between the district and various parents over a five-year span. In responding to the request, the district acknowledged that such agreements were public records and agreed to disclose the requested documents, but removed all references to student initials and docket numbers before disclosing the requested records to the parents. The district reasoned that the student initials and related docket numbers were confidential and should not be disclosed to the parents. However, other information, such as the date and amount of the settlement, and the attorney’s invoices could be disclosed without violating parent or student confidences.
The parents protested the redaction of the student initials and docket numbers.
The court ruled for Winslow Township, explaining that initials, standing alone, may permit a reasonable person to identify a student with reasonable certainty and therefore deemed that initials should not be disclosed to the parents, likewise docket numbers, when combined with other information, could be linked to a specific student. The court further reasoned that the pupil records statutes only granted access to certain enumerated groups or individuals. Because the parents were not listed among those entitled to gain access to student records, they were not entitled to unredacted records of students to whom they were not related.
The court concluded by denying the parent’s request to obtain student initials and docket numbers contained within special education settlement agreements. The parents have the right to appeal the decision to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. NJSBA’s legal and labor relations department will monitor the matter and report in a future edition if events warrant.