Friday, July 3, 2015

Seeking consistency in special ed document redactions.

New Jersey's administrative regulations state that in order to protect the identities of minors involved in special education litigation, "the judge shall use initials rather than full names when referring to the child and the parent(s) or guardian."

Yet, when I submit Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests to local school boards for special education litigation documents, the school boards often redact the initials of both the minor and his or her parents or guardians.  The school districts justify these redactions by pointing out that it is often easy, especially in small districts where everyone know their neighbors, to figure out a student's identity from the initials.  I accept this rationale.

Yet, when I submit an OPRA request to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for the same redacted records that I previously received from the school district, the OAL provides me with a version that leaves the student's and parent's initials unredacted.  Thus, anyone can learn the initials of special education litigants simply by submitting his or her OPRA request to the OAL instead of the local school district.

It makes no sense for two different agencies which are both subject to OPRA to have differing methods of redacting the same document.  I have attempted to effect consistency by submitting a Petition for Rulemaking to the OAL.  My petition and notification of its publication in the New Jersey Register are on-line here.

I urge school districts and others who support or oppose my request for consistent redaction standard to send their comments and suggestions to the OAL's Mark Stanton at mark.stanton@oal.state.nj.us  referring to the notice published at 47 N.J.R. 1350(a).

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