“What is the penalty?” one might ask, for violating the Act? The Act, at 51 O.S. §24A.17(B) provides that any person denied access to a public record and who successfully brings a civil action for relief is entitled to attorney fees. In the instant case, a Rogers County District Court Judge ruled last Friday that the City of Claremore is required to pay the Plaintiffs a total of $41,324.25. Additionally, a willful violation of the Act will land: (1) a fine not exceeding $500; or, (2) imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding one (1) year; or, (3) by both such fine and imprisonment. See 51 O.S. §24A.17.
In recent years, the question has presented itself of whether a school bus video may be withheld from public inspection on the basis that release of the video violates students’ FERPA rights. While never directly addressed in Oklahoma, courts in other states appear to be split. In West Virginia, the Court has held that videotapes from school buses are within the scope of FERPA, as they are “education records” and cannot be released without prior parental consent of the student(s) appearing in the tape. See West Virginia Newspaper Pub. Co. v. Monongalia County Bd. Of Educ., 2006 WL 4634008, (W.Va.Cir.Ct 2006). In New York, the Supreme Court has held that a student involved in an altercation on a school bus, which was videotaped, has due process rights which are greater than the school’s asserted interest in withholding the video. See Rome City Sch. Dist. Disciplinary Hearing v. Grifasi, 10 Misc.3d 1034, 806 N.Y.S.2d 381. Finally, the USDE Family Compliance Office has leaned towards a school withholding the videotape so as to not violate FERPA. The takeaway here? Before finding yourself in a legal battle that can cost your school system upwards of $45,000 or more, consult independent legal advice and weigh the competing interests of student privacy v. the public right to know.