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What What?

June 6, 2012

Originally, I had planned on titling this post A Tale of Two Headlines. You see, yesterday, the State Board of Education held a hearing to decide whether or not to grant waivers to students who did not graduate from their respective high schools due to the ACE graduation tests. In reporting on this hearing, the Oklahoman titled their story “Oklahoma board of education grants waivers, diplomas to two.” The Tulsa World titled theirs “Seven students denied diploma waivers.” I wasn’t at the hearing, and I definitely can’t speak to the merits of the students’ appeals. That the board took two hours to reach a decision after hearing the student appeals shows that this was serious to them.

I just found the difference in reporting to be interesting. It’s the same story. It’s moderately noteworthy. And both articles have essentially the same facts. Most of the students requesting waivers, though, were from the Tulsa area. Also, the World  tends to be less sympathetic to the state superintendent than the Oklahoman in general. It’s hard to say whether either of these issues made any difference in the headlines.

The issue lingering with me is the fact that the SDE posted student records online. I understand making students and/or their parents sign a FERPA release so that state board members can go into executive session and examine student records. That does not mean, however, that it is either legally or morally permissible to do so. An SDE spokesperson with about 17 months of institutional memory defended posting the information saying there is a “longstanding precedent” to make information available to the board also available to the public.

While the intention is good, there is also a line that needs to be drawn. Not all records the board reviews in closed session carry the same degree of sensitivity. Across the state, school boards often go into closed session to discuss sensitive matters involving students or personnel. Most of those boards rightly post an agenda item vaguely referring to that student or employee. Here’s an example of an Oklahoma school district that managed to note what was being discussed regarding a student’s appeal of a suspension without making the details of that student’s life known to the world.

As it should be.

At the best, this was a misinterpretation of the Open Records Act. Perhaps something more sinister was happening. The former high level employee who called Tulsa-area superintendents “dirtbags” was not reprimanded by Superintendent Barresi. It is also noteworthy that the feud between Broken Arrow (which originated many of these student waiver requests) and Barresi was made public when she accidentally hit the “Reply All” button on an email. Surely the release of student records wasn’t clumsy. Hopefully it wasn’t done as a deterrent to discourage future appeals. And it certainly wasn’t retaliation. What was it then? Simply inexplicable.

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  1. June 6, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    OR was it bullying and intimidation? Was it a threat to anyone else who might request an appeal in the future? I have always contended that our students learn from us all the time…perhaps NOT the lesson we’ve prepared and delivered. Maybe they’ve learned how we handle surprises, or how we treat other, or a myriad of lessons in life. What have THESE students learned from our SDE?

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

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  2. June 7, 2012 at 9:49 am

    A review of FERPA may be in order because sharing student records between educational institutions is generally appropriate, according to the Act, but releasing student information to the media is generally inappropriate. I do not pretend to know the nuances of the Act but provide this online resource from the DOE for your consideration: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/students.html.

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  3. June 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Just so it’ll be on this page for the info of those who stop by: The SDE has decided (6/7/12) to redact the student records online. A little late now but they got it in between their wag-the-dog presses regarding use of technology for Board mtgs covertly designed to please reporters, and a crazy analysis by DG as to why more “education reform” is needed.

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  4. Linda Murphy
    June 27, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Who are you? I am looking for a bio on the author of this website. If you believe these things why don’t you post who you are? I think I agree much but I’m very uncomfortable with reading this and not knowing the source.

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    • June 29, 2012 at 10:27 pm

      Linda,

      That’s fair. I do think I’d have a larger audience if I felt at liberty to identify myself. For a variety of reasons, I don’t, though. What I try to do here is present a lot of facts with a little bit of editorializing. I understand that won’t resonate with everybody, and I respect that.

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