The Texas Public Information Act (the “PIA”) gives members of the public the right to request access to government information. While the requested information is presumed public, the PIA provides exceptions to disclosure. These exceptions fall into two main categories: those that require a ruling from the Office of the Attorney General and those that allow the governmental body to make redactions on its own. The most common of the exceptions you can apply on your own are FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and sections 552.117, 552.130, and 552.147 of the Government Code.

In April, the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) issued new guidance concerning FERPA and video surveillance. It answers some of the ongoing questions that districts have wrestled with as video surveillance has become more prevalent.

Martin Brumit has resigned as principal at Malakoff High School to become superintendent of Kerens ISD. “Mr. Brumit has provided great leadership to this district for the last five years, and we wish him the very best in his new position,” Malakoff ISD Superintendent Randy Perry said in an email.  Brumit is scheduled to join KISD on July 1. view article arw

Special education teachers are the heart and soul of special education programs. They are among the most talented and hard-working educators in our state. Ask any special education teacher about the amount of data generated on individual students, and she will tell you that it is staggering. If that data is focused on the right things, it can go a long way toward proving that a school district provided a student with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If the data focused on the wrong things, all that effort was for naught.

 month and a few days after a car wreck required both his legs to be amputated, Austin Haskins graduated eighth grade with his classmates -- with the help of technology.  Normangee school administrators worked with the Region 6 Education Service Center in Huntsville to get a robot that could virtually bring Haskins to his eighth-grade graduation in the school gym. "Austin enjoyed it. We all enjoyed watching it, and he got to talk to a lot of his friends," said Haskins' mom, Danielle Adams, calling the opportunity amazing. "I think that was a little uplifting for him as well to see all of the people that care about him and that are rooting for him, that are cheering him on to get better. It was pretty neat." view article arw

In another example of the Texas Legislature taking over classroom instruction, beginning this year the Legislature has told us we must now step down and stop education in order to permit “Patriotic Societies” to have ten minutes to make a presentation to our students. Moreover, this practice should be in place by now. So what does this involve?

Did you know that every time your special education staff completes an evaluation for a special education student, the parent of that student can request the same evaluation be performed by an outside person, with the cost of that evaluation paid out of district funds? The parent’s right to this request--called an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)—is outlined in §300.502 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA.) More and more parents are asking for IEEs, and the costs can have a big impact on special education budgets.

Reporting suspected abuse or neglect to Child Protective Services has always been an affirmative duty in Texas, and even more so for educators who bear additional responsibility to convey their concerns timely on behalf of students. One way that this duty is made less intimidating is the assurance that the identity of the reporter will be kept confidential. In this age of government transparency through Public Information Act requests and parent inspection of student records under FERPA, just how confidential can these reports stay? This is a common concern voiced by educators, and with good reason: doing the right thing under the reporting statute seldom wins friends.

In a November 13, 2017, To the Administrator Addressed bulletin, the Texas Education Agency issued its official form for use in complying with new requirements in Texas Education Code § 21.009 that applies to all applicants for educator positions at school districts, districts of innovation, open-enrollment charter schools, regional education service centers, or shared services arrangements.

If you closely read contracts for technology products and services your district uses, you will frequently see provisions in the contract regarding who owns the data within the technology application. “What data?” you ask. For example, you may have contracted with a provider to operate cloud- or Internet-based services for your student information system (SIS) or your special education data. These online services are just giant databases where you store all the information you once would have kept in dozens of filing cabinets. You can now enter into the database all the sensitive and personal information about students that you traditionally kept under lock and key. All that information is considered “personally identifiable information,” or PII, about each student. That PII also constitutes “educational records” about the student, and is information that is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Interlocal agreements received a publicity boost earlier this year due to the Texas Attorney General’s ruling that a school district may not operate a transportation system (for taking students to and from school) outside its boundaries unless it enters into an “interlocal contract as provided by Chapter 791, Government Code.” Interlocal agreements are a common occurrence for school districts. They are the primary way in which districts formalize arrangements with other local government entities.  

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 693 related to three-point seat belts on buses that transport schoolchildren. S.B. 693, 85th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2017). Effective September 1, 2017, every bus operated by or contracted for use by a school district for the transportation of schoolchildren (included school-charted buses) shall be equipped with a three-point seat belt for each passenger, including the operator. Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § Senate Bill 693 (West 2017). According to the statute, a “bus” includes a school bus, school activity bus, multifunction school activity bus, or school-chartered bus. Id. The seat belt requirement does not apply to:

It seems that there may be some miscommunications about how long a district has to schedule a Manifestation Determination Review ARD (MDR) in conjunction with the disciplinary hearing when a special education student has committed a disciplinary infraction which merits a removal. At the majority of districts, administrators conduct the disciplinary hearing first to find whether the student has violated the Student Code of Conduct. Thereafter, the student is usually entitled to appeal the placement, typically pursuant to policy FNG (LOCAL), all the way to the Board of Trustees. In addition, if a student is a special education student, a MDR must be held within ten school-days of any decision to change the placement because of a violation of the Student Code of Conduct.

All school district staff should be aware that records they create and maintain are subject to records retention requirements. The district’s responsibilities are based on schedules developed by the Texas State Library Archives Commission (“TSLAC”), which are published in Title 13 of the Texas Administrative Code. These schedules are also referenced in board policies at CPC (LEGAL).