The Cincinnati Public School District may have illegally provided students’ personal data to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), based on public records obtained by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) as part of its ongoing struggle to keep the district accountable to taxpayers.
In a September 17, 2012 memo from Cincinnati Public Schools curriculum manager Carolyn Pedapati to principals, secretaries, and social studies department chairs, a union representative was identified as responsible for delivering students’ completed voter registration forms to the Hamilton County Board of Elections. “PREPARE forms to be picked up at vour building office by a [sic] Tom Frank or a designee from AFT for delivery to the Board of Elections no later than Thursdav, September 27th,” Pedapati wrote.
The district teachers union, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT), is an AFT affiliate. Carson Elementary School music teacher Tom Frank – who was recognized as CFT “Member of the Year” in 2012 – was on release from his teaching duties in order to work full-time for the school levy campaign when Pedapati’s memo was distributed.
Three days later, Pedapati emailed principals, secretaries, and social studies department chairs an Excel spreadsheet of students who were 18 years old or would be in time for the November 6 general election. A GMail address apparently belonging to Frank was copied on the message with the list of students attached.
“Please find attached a letter regarding a voter registration drive in your building, and a list of students who will be 18 by November 6 and eligible to vote in the upcoming election. Voter registration cards were delivered to your buildings this week,” Pedapati wrote.
“Drives must completed no later than next Thursday, 9/27. Wellyn Collins will be available at Taft MS for the DWPD day to supply additional voter registration forms; other questions may be directed to Tom Frank, AFT (copied).”
School districts tailor their confidentiality rules to both federal and state law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) forbids the disclosure of most student data to anyone except the student or, if the student is under 18, a parent or guardian.
Giving voter registration forms containing students’ personal information to Tom Frank or another AFT representative would likely be a violation not only of Cincinnati Public Schools policy, but also of FERPA and the Ohio Revised Code (ORC).
Although ORC identifies birth date as “directory information,” section 3319.321 states that “no person shall release, or permit access to, personally identifiable information other than directory information concerning any student attending a public school [ ], without the written consent of the parent, guardian, or custodian of each such student who is less than eighteen years of age, or without the written consent of each such student who is eighteen years of age or older.”
Over the past decade, COAST has exposed a number of questionable Cincinnati Public Schools actions related to politics and tax levy campaigns, frustrating the efforts of CFT to the point that the union recently asked for court approval to conduct political activity using public resources.
In 2001, COAST sued the district in federal court after school officials removed anti-levy campaign signs that had been placed on public school grounds. Cincinnati Public Schools and COAST settled the case with the creation of the “COAST Agreement,” a formal recognition that the district must comply with existing state laws – specifically, sections 9.03(c)(1) and 3315.07(c)(1), prohibiting the usage of taxpayer resources for political activity – or pay COAST for each violation.
Media Trackers will continue to investigate the alleged abuses occurring in the Cincinnati Public School District, and will report on the ongoing battle between COAST and the teachers union as the situation develops.