Parents of Columbus Schools Students Upset Over Children’s Personal Information Given to Local Newspaper

Written by Jason Thomas for

For the past four years, the Columbus Dispatch has requested a student directory from the Columbus schools, along with 16 other central Ohio school districts. The directories generally contain student names, addresses and date of birth. Because such information is considered public record under the Ohio Revised Code and the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, it must be given to anyone who requests it.
Dispatch Editor Benjamin Marrison said the paper uses the information to ensure any stories they publish on Columbus schools students throughout the year is correct, including the spelling of student names and their ages.  They have, in the past, used the information in order to contact families that are affected by school closings within the Columbus schools, as well as other news stories that affect parents and students within the Columbus schools. The information is never sold, shared or published en masse, according to Marrison.
Superintendent Linda Fenner turned the information over to the newspaper only after consulting with attorneys and school board President Chris Valentine. Then, Fenner sent an email to parents to inform them of the action taken.
This was the first year the Dispatch requested student information from suburban districts within the Columbus schools. Many parents of students in the Dublin schools got very upset over the action. They believed the information they provided was solely for the purpose and use of the PTO and participating families. Though they could have requested in writing that such information not be released on their children, they were not aware of this option or even of the need for such an action. With growing concerns across the nation over identity theft, sexual predators, and custody issues, more than 60 Dublin parents emailed or telephoned the newspaper to express their displeasure. Many say they will no longer provide such information in the future, noting that no parent would knowingly provide personal information on their child for public use.
President Valentine believes the newspaper jeopardizes the safety and well being of all Columbus schools students with such requests. Furthermore, the Columbus schools are working with state legislators to change the Ohio open records law to shield such student information. Larry Wolpert (R-Hilliard) is co-chairman of a committee working to recommend such legislation to modify the current law.
Some Columbus schools parents, who contacted the newspaper, asked that their children’s information be removed from the database provided by the Columbus schools. Marrison indicated that the newspaper is not obliged to do so. There are no plans to delete the information.
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