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Sunshine Laws and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Jan 24th, 2021

Boards and Presidents

The Texas Open Meetings Act demands that policy-related meetings of public bodies are made public (National Freedom of Information Coalition [NFIC], 2012, para. 1). Therefore, Mr. Smith is expected to provide the information to the public, while Ms. Johnson may choose to do so. According to Texas Laws, the institutions have the right to demand a written request and specify the information that will be provided. Unless the answers to the required questions include confidential information (for example, financial secrets or personal information), a written request must be furnished (Abbott, 2013, p. 20). Therefore, both businesspersons are expected to take into account the responsibility concerning the people and institutions, and the specifics of the procedures would define its extent. The shortlist of candidates, however, is public information (U.S. Department of Education [USDE], 2015, para. 5).

According to the NFIC (2012), in Texas, confidential personal information is exempt from any law concerning the freedom of information (par. 5). A journalist (as well as the public) does not qualify for any of the exceptions to the FERPA rules, which defines the amount of information that can be disclosed concerning the candidates (The University of Texas at Austin [UTA], 2015, para. 5). Dates of attendance, degrees, honors, and awards (including those of extracurricular activities), are “directory” information that is public and can be disclosed without a person’s consent unless the person requests to keep it secret. All the other information (including the transcripts) that was requested by the journalist can be provided with the written consent of the people concerned (USDE, 2015, para. 5). The records of “bad behavior” can only be disclosed in case the behavior is endangering somebody’s life and in similar situations (UTA, 2015, para. 3). The case of public interest is insufficient: unless the candidate provides the written consent, the information cannot be disclosed.

Sunshine Laws and FERPA in Texas

The State and Sources

The researched state is Texas. The information about Texas Sunshine Laws can be found at the site of NFIC (2012); they include the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act (para. 3). Apart from that, Gregg Abbott (2013), Attorney General of Texas, has created a Handbook for the relevant laws with consistent explanations and comments. The information concerning the FERPA can be found on the sites of the universities of Texas and their subsidiaries; they provide the links to the USDE (2015) and define their policies concerning changeable points of the Act.

Sunshine Laws

Sunshine laws application

According to NFIC (2012), Sunshine laws exist to provide the public with information concerning public bodies (para. 1).

Records coverage and request

Public information can be recorded on any kind of medium (for example, paper, tape), in any form (for example, letter, e-mail) and includes the information that “was made, transmitted, maintained, or received in connection with a governmental body’s official business” (Abbott, 2013, p. 16-17). The information defined as “personal notes” has been exempt from the law, but in case it can be also considered public, it is to be disclosed at request. Apart from that, confidential information of any type cannot be disclosed (NFIC, 2012, para. 5).

A citizen of any state and country can file a written request “that reasonably can be judged to be a request for public information is a request for information under the Public Information Act” (Abbott, 2013, p. 20). An oral request can be met by a suggestion of filing a written one; the institution has the right of demanding a specification of a request. E-mails are considered “reasonable”(Abbott, 2013, p. 20).

Open meetings

According to Texas laws, public bodies are only required to make their policy-concerned meetings public (with thirty exceptions, for example, in the case of the disclosure of confidential information). In case a meeting of any form is not concerned with discussing the policy, public bodies do not have to make it public (NFIC, 2012, para. 1).

FERPA

Application

According to UTA (2015) website, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is primarily concerned with students and their rights, even though other parties (parents, officials) are also mentioned by it (para. 1-5).

Records coverage

The records covered by FERPA include “official University academic and personal records relating to scholastic, disciplinary, and fiscal matters, as well as records maintained by University offices and agencies that provide services sought voluntarily by individual students” (UTA, 2015, para. 5). “Directory” information (for example, name and address) is public and can be disclosed without written consent (UTA, 2015, para. 5). Still, the students must be notified of the public character of the information to have the chance to prohibit the disclosure (USDE, 2015, para. 6).

Parents and FERPA

USDE (2015) states that students’ records are typically available for parents until their child becomes an eligible student, that is, reaches the age of 18 (para. 1). In most cases, the records can only be given to a third party with written consent, but there are exceptions, mostly concerned with official institutions or specific cases, for example, an alleged crime (UTA, 2015, para. 6). Parties that provide the financial aid to the student are an exception, and the parent who is paying for the student’s classes has the right to view the records without the student’s consent (USDE, 2015, para. 5).

If any of the mentioned conditions are satisfied, parents (as well as eligible students) can also request a copy of a record (USDE, 2015, para. 3). Payment may be necessary: for example, in UTA (2015) the fee amounts to $10; the copy will be available within forty-five days (para. 6).

References

​Abbott, G. (2013). Public Information Handbook 2014. Web.

​National Freedom of Information Coalition. (2012). Web.

​The University of Texas at Austin. (2015). Web.

​U.S. Department of Education. (2015). Web.

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