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Guest view: School district didn’t break law

In response to the BND’s editorial on Tueday, “Still secrecy despite the law,” the BND used its editorial column to prevaricate the facts and the law.

First and foremost, Harmony Emge School District No. 175 has a legal obligation to comply with both the Illinois Student Records Act and the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The district cannot violate the confidentiality of students simply because the BND requests information under FOIA. The law is crystal clear that any document in the possession of the school district that identifies a student by name is a “student record,” even if the document is a settlement agreement. The law is also clear that student records are confidential and cannot be released unless the parents’ consent to the release, a court orders the release or the district is required to release the information to another state agency (Illinois State Board of Education, DCFS).

The BND’s reference to the release of a settlement agreement in St. Clair County is disingenuous, as that settlement agreement involved an employee and FOIA required the county to release the agreement. District 175 has never denied the release of a settlement agreement involving an employee because employee settlement agreements are not confidential under the statute. However, student records are unequivocally confidential and the district must maintain the confidentiality of student records as required by state law. If the legislature wanted to require a school district to release confidential student records with the student names redacted, it could have written the law to do so. It did not. Under the BND’s argument that student names simply need to be redacted from a student record, every parent reading the BND should know that their child’s student records (grades, test results, attendance records, disciplinary records) would be releasable to the BND for publication as it saw fit.

It’s ironic and hypocritical that the BND would publish an anonymous editorial and then accuse the district of secrecy. It must also be noted that a “settlement” agreement does not always mean “money” and for the BND to use it synonymously, is misleading. The Harmony Emge School District has nothing to hide and must comply with the law. Willful failure to comply with the Illinois Student Records Act is a Class A misdemeanor and subjects the school district to civil penalties. As the district superintendent, I’m not going to commit a criminal act in order to provide the BND student records that are clearly exempt from disclosure under FOIA.