On June 25, 2012, Governor Cuomo signed new legislation into law that affects the disclosure requirements of the State Education Department (SED), school districts, and BOCES. The new law is Chapter 68 of the Laws of 2012 and amends Section 3012-c of the Education Law regarding the Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR) of teachers and principals. The law adds subdivision 10 to the APPR process to provide direction and requirements to school districts and BOCES regarding the release of the results of the reviews of their teachers and principals.
The basis for the legislation is to ensure that parents and legal guardians have access to the final specific APPR ratings and composite evaluation scores of the teachers and principals to which their student is assigned. The rest of the public, however, will only be entitled to secure various aggregate data by school district and building.
SED, school districts, and BOCES need to ensure that any release to the general public of APPR review data, or any other component data used as part of a teacher or principal’s overall review, does not include personally identifying information. This distinction between disclosure of information to the general public versus parents and legal guardians will create implementation challenges for school districts and BOCES.
The law’s intent to differentiate between various members of the public for public disclosure purposes is unusual. In discussing these disclosure ramifications with Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government (COOG), he described the APPR disclosure law as an “aberration.” There are very few provisions that attempt to divide the public for public disclosure purposes. Such statutes that do limit access to certain members of the public only do so for specific privacy purposes and intentionally limit access to a small and controlled group of select interested parties. Examples would be the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) releasing data to students and their families or upon their request and the release of autopsy information upon the approval of family members of the deceased.
Due to the APPR law’s differentiation between the general public and members of the public who are parents of respective students, districts and BOCES must make reasonable efforts to verify that requests made for specific identifiable APPR data is a “bona fide” request by a parent or legal guardian who is entitled to review and receive such data. The law is not specific on the degree to which a district or BOCES is obligated to implement protections to make sure it avoids releasing teacher and principal specific information upon a request from an individual who is not a legitimate parent or legal guardian.
Despite this duty placed on school districts and BOCES to ensure that they only share the identifiable data with a certain portion of the public, there is no prohibition on parents and legal guardians from sharing their received information with other parents, community members, parent groups, and the press. Given the reality of social networking and the wide variety of electronic means to share information and data, the law’s attempt to distinguish between specific information only accessible to parents versus limited aggregate data provided to the rest of the public may quickly become pointless.