Memphis, Nashville school boards resist giving student names to charter schools

Chalkbeat reports today that the school boards of Memphis and Nashville are resisting an order from state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to give charter school operators a list of student names, ages and addresses.

The school boards think that the charter schools will use the lists to recruit students, which they think is not consistent with a new law governing charter schools. But the new law appears to require the school districts to turn over the lists at no cost to the charter schools.

From Chalkbeat’s story “Tennessee’s two largest districts defy state order to share student info with charters“:

Candice McQueen, Tennessee Education Commissioner

At issue is student directory information, including names, phone numbers, addresses and emails. Charter operators say they have a right to the lists under the state’s new charter school law, but local districts don’t want to share the information so they can retain their students.

In her letter to McQueen, Anna Shepherd said Nashville’s board has no problem with sharing information for students already enrolled in state-run charter schools. She took issue, however, with operators who use the information to recruit students now zoned to the district’s low-performing schools.

Shelby County leaders concurred, saying that using student information for recruitment goes against the intent of the state law. The Memphis board also authorized its legal team to submit its argument in writing if Nashville’s board opts to file a lawsuit over the issue.

Both boards cite a committee discussion in February when state lawmakers were asking questions about the charter school bill as it made its way through the legislature. Rep. John Forgety of Athens said the information could not be used as a “recruiting tool,” and Chuck Cagle, an attorney for the state’s superintendents group, agreed. No one disputed their statements.

However, the final bill that passed excluded language that prohibits using the information to market to students, even as the law prohibits charter schools from sharing the information with anyone else.

Several lawmakers are now siding with the school boards. Earlier Tuesday, McQueen spoke with six Nashville-area legislators in a conference call organized by Rep. John Clemmons. He said later that McQueen held steady on her stance. He also expressed hope that she will not withhold funding from districts for their positions.

Chalkbeat reports that McQueen plans to ask the state attorney general for an opinion.

Here is the new law in question:

T.C.A. 49-13-132. List of student names, ages, addresses, dates of attendance and grade levels completed.

To effectuate § 49-13-113, within thirty (30) days of receiving a request from a chartering authority or a public charter school approved to operate one (1) or more schools in the district, an LEA shall provide at no cost a list of student names, ages, addresses, dates of attendance, and grade levels completed in accordance with § 10-7-504 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g). Such information shall not be released by the receiving entity to outside parties without prior written consent from the parent or eligible student. Each recipient of such information shall adopt and implement a policy allowing parents or eligible students to decline to receive further information from the charter school.

And here is what the Tennessee Public Records Act says about what’s confidential in a student record:

T.C.A. 10-7-504 (a) (4) (A) The records of students in public educational institutions shall be treated as confidential. Information in such records relating to academic performance, financial status of a student or the student’s parent or guardian, medical or psychological treatment or testing shall not be made available to unauthorized personnel of the institution or to the public or any agency, except those agencies authorized by the educational institution to conduct specific research or otherwise authorized by the governing board of the institution, without the consent of the student involved or the parent or guardian of a minor student attending any institution of elementary or secondary education, except as otherwise provided by law or regulation pursuant thereto, and except in consequence of due legal process or in cases when the safety of persons or property is involved. The governing board of the institution, the department of education, and the Tennessee higher education commission shall have access on a confidential basis to such records as are required to fulfill their lawful functions. Statistical information not identified with a particular student may be released to any person, agency, or the public; and information relating only to an individual student’s name, age, address, dates of attendance, grade levels completed, class placement and academic degrees awarded may likewise be disclosed.

FERPA treats academic records of a student as private, but other non-academic records are traditionally open, such as a student’s name, whether or not they attend a certain school, and the dates of attendance, and other information that is not exempt under FERPA or under the specific provisions listed in T.C.A. 10-7-504 (a)(4)(A), such as residential street addresses. Chalkbeat outlines in another story how that information has been given to vendors in the past, such as those that sell yearbooks and class rings.

Journalists also often access this type of information when a crime has occurred at a school perpetuated by a student, and the news media is trying to find out a student’s enrollment status in the school. The school is not prohibited from releasing that information and usually does quickly.

The new law governing charter schools, however, includes a proactive provision that requires a school board to provide — at no cost — a compiled list of student names, ages, addresses, dates of attendance, and grade levels completed. All of this information when requested in the past has been public under the state’s public records law.

It would be difficult to see how the combination of the two statutes could be read to make that basic school information exempt or off-limits to charter schools, especially since it’s been freely given in the past. Tennessee statute requires that the Tennessee Public Records Act “shall be broadly construed so as to give the fullest possible public access to public records.”

What do you think?