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Lawmakers Move to Carve Out Public Records Exemption for Teachers

by Kathleen Haughney
The News Service of Florida

A bill designed to protect teachers would exempt a school employees' name, photograph and other personal information from public records requirements.

“My concern is I don't want to wait until a child (gets a failing grade) … and a child goes ballistic or a parent goes ballistic and something impacts (a teacher) negatively,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville.

{sidebar id=1}The measure (HB 409) would exempt a school district employee’s name, social security number, home address, employment status, home telephone number, and photograph from the list of records that must be made public. It would also specifically exempt any information about the employee’s children.

The impetus for the bill was a case in Polk County a year ago where a Florida resident made public records requests to all 67 school districts about school employees and their dependents. Jones said she is concerned that an angry child or parent could use personal information about a school employee or his or her family member in retaliation for an unpopular decision.

“They're in pretty critical positions and they make some decisions often times that are not received well,” Jones said.

Adria Harper, director of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, said the bill is written so broadly that it can be interpreted to mean that even putting a photo and other identifying information about a teacher on a school Web site wouldn’t be allowed.

{sidebar id=1}“I can see personal health information, but personal identifying information, which again, it is defined as any school employee … that's ridiculous,” Harper said. “I don't know what has spawned this but I'm sure this is the type of exemption that would raise a lot of concern from the public.”

Jones said school district employees could choose to give out the information on their own, noting that many teachers already give out cell or home phone numbers to parents.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said the state's teachers union is supporting the bill and said it just adds an extra layer of protection, particularly for children of school teachers, administrators and school board members.

“It's not to prevent anyone from getting legitimate public information, but the idea is to stop someone from trolling for information about employees that really isn't important,” Pudlow said. “A teacher at a school district might be worth knowing about but not a family member.”

The measure is currently before the House Government Affairs Policy Committee. An identical bill (SB 1260) has also been filed by Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, in the Senate.

This article originally published on March 10, 2009.

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