Hinsdale District 86 Board members debate their access to student records

Some members of the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board are concerned proposed revisions to the district policy for School Board members’ access to district documents would not adequately protect student privacy.

District officials proposed a revision that would state all board members, by their offices, are entitled to unlimited access to documents necessary and relevant to a their exercise of official duties, including personnel and student records. The proposal would not request the reason the board member was looking through the records.

The revisions also address board members’ right to listen to audio recordings of closed session meetings and their right to be in the schools without being accompanied by a member of the district staff.

Board members Kay Gallo, Jennifer Planson and Michael Kuhn are concerned students’ privacy will not be protected.

“We are talking about unfettered access to student documents,” Planson said.

Terry Hodges of the district’s law firm Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn, said the situation where a board member would need to see a student record is “going to be very narrow.”

“When it comes to student information, you have to be more cautious,” Hodges said.

Hodges said the proposed policy guards against abuse, by making a board member agree to keep the information confidential and not ask for documents purely for personal reasons.

“There would have to be a legitimate need to know” the information, Hodges said.

The current policy requires a board member demonstrate why the record will help him fulfill his legislative or investigatory duties as a board member, but the proposed revision does not.

“I think you are going to need to have a meeting of the minds as to what is required,” Hodges said.

Gallo said she thought parents had to be notified if their child’s records were going to be released to a board member.

“I’m not sure you have to notify the parents,” Hodges said.

Board member Richard Skoda said the district will abide by all laws governing access to district documents.

In the past, Skoda said board members have not been allowed to see documents that they should in their role as school district officials. Skoda said some students who live in the district attend out-of-state schools. His request for the location and cost of that schooling was denied, he said.

Parents who think their children are not receiving the special education services they need have complained to the district and reached settlement agreements with the district.

“The board never sees those agreements,” which are agreed to in the board’s name, Skoda said.

Revising the access policy was part of the settlement agreement with former School Board member Dianne Barrett, which the board approved by a 3-2 in November. Barrett sued district officials when she was not allowed to listen to audiotapes of closed session meetings she did not attend or see special education records that administrators determined were confidential.

Barrett’s lawsuit was dismissed in a DuPage County Circuit Court in June. But Barrett appealed the decision. The board reached a settlement agreement, at least in part, so the Appellate Court would dismiss the case.

The proposed revisions to the access policy are “to honor our agreement under the terms of the settlement,” Hodges said.

The next step will be for revisions to come back to the board based on the discussion April 21.

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