Disclosure of Notes Kept by School Personnel Concerning Incidents Involving Children is Not Mandated by the Open Public Records Act
As a parent, I know that I want the personnel at my children’s school to keep me fully informed of what it happening with them. If they are being bullied, I would want to know about it and would presume that I’d have the right to all information the school had on the subject. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, reasonable or not, according to a decision announced by the NJ Appellate Division this week, I, as a parent, may not have such an easy time accessing this kind of information.
In K.L. v. Evesham Township Board of Education, the court ruled that certain notes kept by school personnel with regard to incidents involving children need not be disclosed pursuant to requests made under either the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) or the common-law right of access to public records. The case arose from a request made by a parent of a student who sought access to school records pertaining to alleged incidents of bullying against his children. The Board of Education declined to provide any records except the children's own school files, claiming that other records in its possession on the issues were privileged and exempt from disclosure. The court agreed with the Board of Education, and ruled that the additional notes in the Board’s possession were privileged under the attorney work product doctrine, and found that the recently enacted Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, L. 2010, c. 122, N.J.S.A. 18A:37-13.1 et seq., did not apply to the parents’ request for information or the school district’s record-keeping obligations.
The decision has been approved for publication, but can be viewed oneline here.