Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Schools officials: Mayor shouldn’t have gotten addresses

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, April 8, 2011 2:46 PM EDT

VERNON — Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy’s practice of obtaining student addresses from schools is not only a violation of federal privacy law, it’s a violation of Board of Education policy, according to Superintendent Mary P. Conway and board Chairwoman Anne Fischer.

But McCoy said today that statements to that effect are, “false, misleading, and slandering. I want it stated there was no violation of any laws.”

McCoy, a local lawyer, has been using town resources to send congratulatory letters to honor roll students since his first term in office, and said he would continue the program to help encourage students to excel.

The positive motivation behind the letters is not in dispute, , Conway said, but the way in which he sent the letters is problematic.

“I think it’s a lovely thing that the mayor wants to write a letter — I don’t have a problem with that piece. It’s just I can’t release that information,” Conway said.

When she polled the schools’ principals Conway said she discovered that former Superintendent Richard Paskiewicz had instructed both Vernon Center Middle School Principal Beth Katz and Rockville High School Principal Eric Baim to provide McCoy with an electronic list of the names and addresses of every honor roll student.

“It’s a very nice gesture, but it’s really not allowed. We will be stopping that,” Conway said.

As further proof that the board has explicitly stated that students’ personal, “directory” information can not be given out to anyone — including McCoy — Conway cited a board policy titled “On-Campus Recruitment/Distribution of Written Information,” last updated in 2002.

The policy essentially reaffirms state law, which specifically lists what information can be made public and when. It states that high schools must provide students’ “directory information” to military recruiters and colleges, but only with the consent of a parent or guardian.

It also cites a section of state law regarding records that are exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Names or addresses of students enrolled in any public school or college,” are not releasable “without the consent of each student” or their guardian, the law states.

Names or addresses of students may be disclosed to “the board of selectmen or town board of finance,” but only to check what town the student lives in because parents sometimes try to sneak their child into a better-funded school district for which they’re not paying property taxes. The disclosure of addresses is only, “for the purpose of verifying tuition payments made to such school,” according to the law.

Conway said that under state and federal law, a school board has some leeway to define when and how information is released, and the board has specifically outlined its policy on the matter, which is not to give out addresses.

She also took the blame for the situation, though she only took over as superintendent on July 1, saying that, “It never occurred to me that someone would do that, that we would release those.

“I feel that the town has done nothing wrong. They have to assume that if we’re giving them — and it was two schools — if we’re giving them addresses, they can have them. What we did was wrong and we did not follow our policy,” Conway said.

When asked if he’s read the board’s policy on distribution of student information, McCoy replied, “I don’t need to, I’ve read the law. You clearly haven’t read the law. I appreciate you hurting my reputation, thank you. You didn’t check the law and you didn’t check the facts.”

When asked what provision of the federal Family Educational Right and Privacy Act allowed him to obtain students’ addresses, McCoy again stated that he had read the law and, “at request, and when it’s opted out, you’re allowed to do this… if it’s consented to.”

McCoy said that parents sign a release every year allowing their child’s information to be included on the honor roll list.

These lists are then provided to media outlets and other sources for publication, and McCoy insisted that they include both students’ names and addresses.

He is allowed access to, “the list of information, one of which is the address,” McCoy said.

Council member Marie Herbst, a Democrat, first brought up the subject of McCoy’s letters, and on Thursday the mayor tried to paint criticism of his methods as a partisan attack.

At the Town Council meeting Tuesday, Herbst questioned Thomas A. Hennick, public education officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission about when and how students’ personal information can be released.

Hennick confirmed that directory information cannot be released. But McCoy said Hennick is wrong and was not speaking to his particular circumstance because Herbst had asked, “broad-based, general questions.”

Republican board Chairwoman and Policy Committee member Anne Fischer said today that, “I agree with our superintendent, according to our policy and according to state law we should not be giving out addresses.”

Both Fischer and Conway said the board was unaware that the practice had been taking place, and “I think people were following directions from their supervisor,” Conway said.

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