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© Copyright 2007 Student Press Law Center Freedom of Information Law for High School Student Journalists A legal guide to obtaining access to public.

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Presentation on theme: "© Copyright 2007 Student Press Law Center Freedom of Information Law for High School Student Journalists A legal guide to obtaining access to public."— Presentation transcript:

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2 © Copyright 2007 Student Press Law Center

3 Freedom of Information Law for High School Student Journalists A legal guide to obtaining access to public records and meetings for high school student journalists and their advisers This presentation was made possible by a generous grant from: © Copyright 2007 Student Press Law Center

4 3 Student Press Law Center Web site: Phone: (703) Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Eastern Time Provides free legal help and information on media law issues to student journalists and their advisers Between Memorial Day and Labor Day the SPLC closes at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays

5 Freedom of Information Law Ensuring your right of access to public records and meetings

6 5 3 Main Types of FOI Law

7 6 Open Records Laws –State open records laws –Federal Freedom of Information Act

8 7 3 Main Types of FOI Law Open Records Laws –State open records laws –Federal Freedom of Information Act Open Meetings Laws –State open meetings laws –Federal Government in the Sunshine Act

9 8 Finding your law

10 9 3 Main Types of FOI Law Open Records Laws –State open records laws –Federal Freedom of Information Act Open Meetings Laws –State open meetings laws –Federal Government in the Sunshine Act Pocket FOI Laws –Federal Clery Act (campus crime records) –Federal Student Right-to-Know Act (college graduation rates) –IRS Form 990 disclosure regulations (private school budgets)

11 10 Public/Private Bodies Only public bodies or public agencies are covered by traditional open record and open meeting laws.

12 11 Public: Federal government agencies (FBI, Dept. of Education, etc.) State government agencies (Dept. of Motor Vehicles, state colleges or universities, etc.) Local government agencies (city council, school districts, school boards, city police, etc.) Private schools Companies (McDonalds, Old Navy, etc.) Private Individuals Most nonprofit organizations (churches, private charities, etc.) Private :

13 12 Private Bodies Some private bodies perform public functions and may be covered by FOI laws (for example, charter schools, private campus police, etc.) Look for alternative public sources for information about private bodies Pocket FOI Laws often apply to private bodies through receipt of funding provisions

14 13 State/Federal FOI Laws State laws are used to obtain access to records or meetings of state, county or local government agencies or public bodies (for example, city/campus police, school district, health department, etc.)

15 14 State/Federal FOI Laws Federal laws are used to obtain access to federal government agency records or meetings (for example, Environmental Protection Agency, FBI, U.S. Dept. of Education, etc.)

16 Open Records Laws General Law: A public body must make its records available upon request unless the records are explicitly exempted by statute.

17 16 Common Exemptions Records involving an ongoing criminal investigation Disclosure of police techniques; undercover agent identities Information that could jeopardize national security

18 17 Common Exemptions Some personnel records (hiring/firing/disciplinary records) Records re: pending real estate deals or ongoing or contemplated legal proceedings Documents whose release would constitute an invasion of privacy (medical, adoption, personal financial information)

19 18 Common Exemptions Education records kept by a school that identify specific students

20 19 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Requires schools to provide a student (or sometimes parents) with a copy of his or her education records upon request Penalizes schools that release a students education records without student (or sometimes parental) consent

21 20 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) FERPA does not prohibit student journalists from publishing or disclosing information about other students; it only applies to school officials FERPA only restricts release of an education record that identifies a specific student

22 21 Redaction and Release Often Required

23 22 Requesting Records Ask nicely! Verbal requests sometimes recognized by law Submit written request where required or when paper trail needed

24 23 Requesting Records After receiving a formal request for records, officials must in a timely manner either: (1) Provide records or (2) Point to applicable statutory exemption

25 24

26 25 If You Believe Your Request Has Been Improperly Denied Contact recordkeeper/cite law politely Administrative appeal sometimes available Judicial review Fines and/or attorney fees may be available

27 26 What Would You Like to Know?

28 27 To Find Out… How much money does my school spend on new football uniforms? How much does it spend on new library books? How much does the school district pay the superintendent?

29 28 Ask For: Your school districts annual budget

30 29 To Find Out… Are the buses at my school safe?

31 30 Ask For: School bus safety inspection reports

32 31 To Find Out… How clean is my schools cafeteria?

33 32 Ask For: Your schools most recent cafeteria safety/health inspection report conducted by the Department of Health

34 33 To Find Out… How does my school rank academically compared to other schools?

35 34 Ask For: Your schools federal No Child Left Behind report card

36 Open Meetings Laws General Law: A public body must provide notice of all gatherings and allow public attendance unless meeting is explicitly exempted by statute.

37 36 Common Exemptions Discussion of personnel matters Discussion of individual students Matters involving highly personal information (e.g., medical, personal finance, test scores) Discussion of ongoing or contemplated legal proceedings Meetings to discuss the acquisition of real estate

38 37 Attending Public Meetings Show up Understand and be prepared to explain the law If told to leave, ask that the minutes of the meeting reflect your eviction and then leave Administrative or judicial review available

39 38 Newsroom Must Have FOI Law Resource

40 39 TEXAS Open Records IV. RECORD CATEGORIES OPEN OR CLOSED K. Police records tapes. Tape recordings of calls made to the 911 number constitute public information. Tex. Att'y Gen. ORD-519 (1989). Such records are subject to public disclosure even if they are held by a "911 network district" established under the Emergency Communication District Act. Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §§ (formerly Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. art. 1432d); Tex. Att'y Gen. ORD-519 (1989).

41 40

42 Pocket FOI Laws Discovering hidden sources of access law treasure

43 42 Pocket FOI Laws Federal Clery Act (campus crime) State campus crime reporting acts

44 43 Federal reports show Western Tech College is safest in state Central State Univ. reports 32 percent increase in campus sexual assaults last year; 20 percent jump in thefts According to reports filed with the U.S. Department of Education last year, Kennedy High School seniors planning to attend some in-state schools next fall may want to invest in a can of mace or a police whistle. The reports, obtained by the Student News, show that campus crime at our state colleges and universities varies significantly from school to school. States safest schools: 1. Western Technical College 2. Jessally University 3. Smith Community College 4. Eastern State University 5. St. Mallard College Source: U.S. Dept. of Education WTC had lowest crime rate

45 44 Pocket FOI Laws Federal Clery Act (campus crime) State campus crime reporting acts Federal Student Right-to-Know Act for colleges –Access to student graduation rates –Access to athletic program information –Access to accreditation reports

46 45 Pocket FOI Laws Federal Clery Act (campus crime) State campus crime reporting acts Federal Student Right-to-Know Act for colleges –Access to student graduation rates –Access to athletic program information –Access to accreditation reports IRS Form 990 … and more

47 46 Final Things to Remember about Freedom of Information Law There is a legal presumption that the records and meetings of a public government body are open and available Ask nicely but be persistent

48 47 Other Student Media Law Resources Student media must have newsroom resource

49 48 Other Student Media Law Resources Student media newsroom Helpful resources

50 Seek help when you need it! Student Press Law Center (703) Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time Between Memorial Day and Labor Day the SPLC closes at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays

51 50 Freedom of Information Law for High School Student Journalists was written and produced by the Student Press Law Center with the support of a generous grant from the Newspaper Association of America Foundation. You can help the Student Press Law Center create new generations of Americans who will understand and defend the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the values it embodies through your tax-deductible contribution. Go to for details.www.splc.org/give Permission to use and display this classroom presentation for noncommercial, educational purposes is hereby granted. Any commercial use, reproduction or editing of this presentation is prohibited without the express written permission of the Student Press Law Center. While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in Freedom of Information Law for High School Student Journalists it provides general guidance and information only. It is neither intended nor represented as a substitute for obtaining case-specific advice from a licensed and experienced media law attorney in your state. © 2007 Student Press Law Center. All rights reserved.


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