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I can't get in trouble for one little e-mail, can I? What School Psychologists Need to Know about Law and Electronic Communication

Karen Haase Harding & Shultz (402) 434-3000 khaase@hslegalfirm.com H & S School Law @KarenHaase


An e-mail by any other name     

A Business Record A Public Record An Education Record A SpEd Record A Hearing Exhibit


E-mail as Business Record


E-mail as Business Record  Rule 26 – duty to disclose; general provisions governing discovery  Rule 37 – failure to make or cooperate in discovery; sanctions  Rule 37(f) – safe harbor  Requires “litigation hold” memoranda when there is “pending or reasonably anticipated litigation”


G.W. v. Rye City Sch. Dist., 113 LRP 13325 (N.Y. 2013)

Private school student • Parents privately placed; kept telling school student would return next year • Parents sued claiming draft IEPs inadequate and predetermined School system purged e-mails every 6 months • Parents claimed spoliation


G.W. v. Rye City Sch. Dist., 61 IDELR 14 (S.D.N.Y 2013)

 Hearing Officer: found for School  Federal Court • No evidence of bad faith on school’s part • No evidence that missing e-mails were relevant • School Psych printed and retained all e-mails in her file


Mason City School District, 113 LRP 10255 (Ohio SEA 2013)

 Student placed in out-of-district day school  Parent asked for videos, pictures, emails and other documents  School asked for parent to limit scope of her request


Mason City School District, 113 LRP 10255 (Ohio SEA 2013)

 Parent’s response, “I requesting all email or other communications that have gone between staff at (the district) and staff at the (WCLC) pertaining to (the student).”  School: you can look at our stuff, but we don’t control contracted school.


Mason City School District, 113 LRP 10255 (Ohio SEA 2013)

 Ohio Department of Ed: No FERPA violation by resident district • Offered to allow parent to review • Provided all education records that resident district “maintained” • Parent may wish to pursue FERPA remedies against with contracted district


E-mail as Public Record


E-mail as Public Record  In most states, e-mails public records – even if they are on your home computers  Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, Disposition Letter re Hyannis Area Schools (2007)


Kokomo-Center Township Sch., 110 LRP 55120

 Parent asked to see student’s testing protocols  School required parent to complete Public Records Act Form  Indiana Dept. of Ed. Found violation of FERPA and IDEA


Ellis v Cleveland Muni. Sch. Dist., 104 LRP 14907

 Student suing over corporeal punishment by subs  Sought records involving allegations of physical altercations  School claimed student records therefore protected by FERPA and not public records


Ellis v Cleveland Muni. Sch. Dist., 104 LRP 14907

 Court: School must disclose • Records not “education records” as defined by FERPA, therefore public records • “Congress did not intend FERPA to cover records directly related to teachers and only tangentially related to students.”


Retention Implications  Must follow state retention statutes  “correspondence concerning students:” maintain until graduation or after 3 years’ absence  SpEd records: maintain 5 years after no longer needed for services


E-mail as Education Record


E-mail as Education Record  FERPA: “education record” means materials which “contain information directly related to a student [and] maintained by an educational agency”  Includes “print or computer media”


Owasso Ind. Sch. Dist. v. Falvo, 534 U.S. 426 (2002)

 Parent sued over peer grading  Supreme Court: No FERPA violation  Grades are not “education records” until teacher recorded them in grade book.  peer-graded items were not "maintained" -- student graders only handled the items for a few moments.  Student graders not “person acting for an educational institution”


S.A. v. Tulare County Office of Educ., 109 LRP 60382 (E.D. Cal. 2009)

 Parents asked for copies of all e-mail sent or received by the district concerning or personally identifying their autistic son.  District sent only e-mails which were printed and in file.  Parents claimed all e-mails that specifically identify the student, are education records


S.A. v. Tulare County Office of Educ., 109 LRP 60382 (E.D. Cal. 2009)

 Cal. Dept. of Ed. upheld the district's interpretation  Parents appealed, arguing that all emails are “maintained” in the district's electronic mail system and could be located with tech. search


S.A. v. Tulare County Office of Educ., 109 LRP 60382 (E.D. Cal. 2009)

 Court: Ruled for School • FERPA contemplates that ed. records be kept in one place • "An e-mail may be sent, received, read and deleted within moments” • Rejected idea that all e-mails on any computer that identify student are “maintained” by school


Washoe County Sch. Dist., 109 LRP 78026 (Nev. April 2, 2009)

 Parents requested “complete copy” of child's education records. • Parents noticed e-mails they had sent school were missing • School responded that e-mails, unless archived by staff, were deleted from its server within 60 days • Parents filed state department of ed complaint


Washoe County Sch. Dist., 109 LRP 78026 (Nev. April 2, 2009)

 Department: violation of FERPA and IDEA  FERPA • defines "record" to mean any information recorded in any way, including computer media • Didn’t include copies upon request


E-mail as SpEd Record


E-mail as SpEd Record  IDEA requires notification of SpEd parents prior to deleting ed records which contain “personally identify information collected, maintained, or used”  If e-mail is SpEd record, you’ll have to notify before hitting “delete” (!!)


Washoe County Sch. Dist., 109 LRP 78026 (Nev. April 2, 2009)

 Parents requested “complete copy” of child's education records. • Parents noticed e-mails they had sent school were missing • School responded that e-mails, unless archived by staff, were deleted from its server within 60 days • Parents filed state department of ed complaint


Washoe County Sch. Dist., 109 LRP 78026 (Nev. April 2, 2009)

 Parents requested “complete copy” of child's education records. • Parents noticed e-mails they had sent school were missing • School responded that e-mails, unless archived by staff, were deleted from its server within 60 days • Parents filed state department of ed complaint


Washoe County Sch. Dist., 109 LRP 78026 (Nev. April 2, 2009)

 IDEA • Requires districts to inform parents when personally identifiable information is no longer needed • School was obligated to inform the parents that the information in the messages was no longer needed • “safe harbor” of Rule 27 not protection in IDEA context


Rachel L. v. State of Hawaii, 59 IDELR 244, 112 LRP 47510 (Haw. 2012)

 Parent who claimed she was excluded from IEP process  Staff repeatedly tried to schedule IEP meeting with mother  Parent claimed she didn't receive notice of meetings because school sent notices to old email address


Rachel L. v. State of Hawaii, 59 IDELR 244, 112 LRP 47510 (Haw. 2012)

 Court: ruled for school • Parent continued using that same email address to communicate with the district • Parents e-mailed school telling it to use that e-mail address • School attempted to use other means to contact parent


R.P. v. Alamo Heights Indep. Sch., 60 IDELR 60, 113 LRP 44 (5th Cir. 2010)

 Nonverbal student needed AT eval • Team requested in spring 2008 • Eval completed but not reviewed until June 2009 • Two intervening IEP meetings

 AT ultimately implemented  Parents sued claiming delay denied FAPE


R.P. v. Alamo Heights Indep. Sch., 60 IDELR 60, 113 LRP 44 (5th Cir. 2010)

 School: assessment conducted on time and discussed by IEP team  Court: factually untrue • January 2009 e-mail from school psych • Asked about assessment • Confirmed not discussed at IEP team meetings


E-mail as Hearing Exhibits


A.C. v. Shelby County Board of Ed., 60 IDELR 271 (6th Cir. 2013)

 504 student with diabetes and peanut allergy  Tension between mom and principal immediately  Voicemail:


A.C. v. Shelby County Board of Ed., 60 IDELR 271 (6th Cir. 2013) Hey, Barbara. I know we're having a meeting tomorrow about [student]. This is Kay Williams from Bon Lin. [Mom] is here causing all kinds of confusion and [teacher] has already broken down and cried. This woman is out to lunch. My teacher had ten minutes for lunch because she's trying to make sure there are no peanut people by her, and now she claims the kid did sit by her with peanut butter. I mean, yet she doesn't want the child sitting at another table because she doesn't want her singled out. I don't know what to do with this lady anymore. She does not reason or have any common sense. So you know that since I am the one with common sense, I am going to have a little problem with her. But at any rate, love ya, and I'll see you tomorrow unless you want to call.


A.C. v. Shelby County Board of Ed., 60 IDELR 271 (6th Cir. 2013)

 Mom filed OCR complaint on other issues; school lost every issue  School allowed mom to write own HCP, nurses uncomfortable implementing  Constant blood sugar issues  Principal reported mom to HHS for medical neglect


A.C. v. Shelby County Board of Ed., 60 IDELR 271 (6th Cir. 2013)

 Mom sued claiming report of abuse made in retaliation for advocacy  Court: e-mails could support claim • Principal referenced parent’s “harassment” of school • Showed concern about parent not for student


M.J.C. v. Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 58 IDELR 288 (Minn. 2012)

 Parents requested eval; student diagnosed with ADHD but parent would not  Staff e-mails referred mom as “difficult;” “hard to work with”  Court: violation of child find  School didn’t want to verify because didn’t want to work with mom


Practical Pointers  Find, review and comply with your email retention policy  Comply with state retentions schedule  Keep relevant SpEd emails in hard copy  Notify before deletion  Think about other methods of digital communication • • •

Text messages Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) Evernote


Practical Pointers  Remember the Federal Rules (Litigation Hold)  Auto spell check, proofing, etc.  Instill a culture of oral, not e-mail, griping


Practical Pointers  Personal devices aren’t exempt • Probably not “education records” • Could be business records or hearing exhibits  Personal identifiers won’t save you  Obtain parent consent before e-mailing records


Questions?


I can't get in trouble for one little e-mail, can I? Karen Haase Harding & Shultz (402) 434-3000 khaase@hslegalfirm.com H & S School Law @KarenHaase


What School Psychologists Need to Know about Law and Electronic Communication