|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
February 9, 2000
Ms. Ylise Janssen
Dear Ms. Janssen:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 132151.
The Corpus Christi Independent School District (the "school district") received a request for a copy of a certain incident report involving a specific employee of Moody High School. You claim that a certain memorandum that is responsive to the request is excepted from disclosure under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 ("FERPA") and section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with common law privacy.(1) We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
FERPA provides that no federal funds will be made available under any applicable program to an educational agency or institution that releases personally identifiable information (other than directory information) contained in a student's education records to anyone but certain enumerated federal, state, and local officials and institutions, unless otherwise authorized by the student's parent. See 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1). "Education records" means those records that contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution. Id. § 1232g(a)(4)(A). Information must be withheld from required public disclosure under FERPA only to the extent "reasonable and necessary to avoid personally identifying a particular student." See Open Records Decision Nos. 332 (1982), 206 (1978). We find that the submitted document qualifies as a student record under FERPA. However, the document contains no information that identifies the student to which the document relates. Therefore, the school district may not withhold any of the information contained in the submitted document under FERPA.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." For information to be protected from public disclosure under the common law right of privacy, the information must meet the criteria set out in Industrial Found. v. Texas Industrial Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). The court stated that
information . . . is excepted from mandatory disclosure under Section 3(a)(1) as information deemed confidential by law if (1) the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts the publication of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and (2) the information is not of legitimate concern to the public.
540 S.W.2d at 685; Open Records Decision No. 142 at 4 (1976) (construing statutory predecessor to Gov't Code § 552.101). There is a legitimate public interest in the information as it concerns a public teacher's work performance. See Open Records Decision No. 444 (1986) (public has legitimate interest in knowing reasons for public employee's demotion, dismissal, or resignation). Therefore, the submitted information is not excepted by common law privacy under section 552.101.(2) Accordingly, the school district must release the submitted memorandum to the requestor.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Ref: ID# 132151
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. James Doughty
1. We assume that the school district intends to release the rest of the responsive information to the requestor.
2. We note that while a student's identity contained in this type of document would ordinarily be private, the document at issue in this case does not identify a student.
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