School Choice Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that supports expanding educational options for parents through the use of school vouchers, recently submitted open records requests to 30 school districts seeking student “directory data.” Initially, the organization wanted students’ names, addresses, phone numbers, grade levels and school of attendance. After hearing school district and parental concerns, the organization modified its request in most cases to include only student addresses.
Sec. 118.125(1)(b), Wis. Stats., defines “directory data” as “those pupil records which include the pupil’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, photographs, degrees and awards received and the name of the school most recently previously attended by the pupil.”
School boards are also provided the authority under the law to “. . . adopt rules in writing specifying the content of pupil records . . .” Sec. 118.125(3), Wis. Stats. In that regard, each school district has the right to designate which items from the statutory list of directory data will in fact be directory data for that school district. Many school boards have more narrowly defined “directory data” from the extensive list noted above.
Under the law “directory data” may be disclosed to any person making such a request provided the school has notified the parent or legal guardian of the ability to “opt out” of the release of “directory data” as defined by the school district. Sec. 118.125(2)(j)1., Wis. Stats. Typically, school districts provide this notice annually at the beginning of each school year.
However, if parents or guardians do not “opt out” from the release of information listed as that school’s directory data, school districts are required by law to release the “directory data” to any person making such a request. The school district cannot withhold the information based upon who made the request, or what the intent for using the data, unless necessary to protect students.
The request from School Choice Wisconsin has created concern among parents and school districts alike as to the purpose of the request, safety of students, commercial use of personal information, and privacy.
Because of the concern and confusion surrounding the “opt out” process generally done at the start of the school year, some school districts have provided parents and guardians with an opportunity to “opt out” at this time. The current opportunity to “opt out” is intended to avoid any concern regarding whether or not parents had had the ability to make an informed decision about release of information about their child.
The current directory data request has highlighted a need to revisit how directory data is handled in schools. School districts are advised to review their student record policy paying close attention to its definition of “directory data” and the process used for notify parents of their rights to opt out of the release of information regarding their child.