KATY, Tex. — School bond issues rarely get much attention, except by those that live in the district that it will affect, but this school bond issue in Katy, Texas may be getting a whole lot more attention than the numbers alone warrant. Allegations of violations of federal and state codes, particularly the release and use of private information in order to contact voters are getting a really close look by voters and the parents affected by it.
Information about Katy’s school bond started off slow with informational meetings and flyers in school folders explaining the school bond and the uses for 469 million dollars. While many Katy schools are exemplary, they are also overcrowded. Trailers are a common method of dealing with overcrowding in the classroom, one which my older children experienced.
This year in my daughter’s class they found they were over the state limit of students permitted and 8 weeks into the term another teacher was hired and the classes reorganized. Knowing this, my personal thoughts on the school bond issue of course were becoming favorable.
This 469 million dollar bond in Katy ISD claims to be needed in order to (in short): build additional schools, update and implement more programs and technology, purchase and maintenance of additional school buses, and of course handle the salaries that all these improvements will require in new hires.
Why couldn’t the school district use some buildings out there that could be adapted and make many other improvements that could save a whole bunch of green and go green, using the resources already available to us. (See Going Green in Our Schools: Ideas for School Districts Teachers, Parents, and Community)
For some the numbers alone are enough to make them vote yea or nay. For others the allocation of the bond funds is a concern. But for many others the use of what many parents consider personal and private information may be just enough to tip the scales in this battle of the bond.
A recent telephone campaign not only harassed voters with numerous calls over and over again, but also contacted parents of children in the school district at their home, work, and even cell phones. I received 6 calls in one day. My friends and neighbors report the same. These numbers are in many cases provided as emergency contact information, not general information.
When first confronted by many angry parents the school claimed that the telephone numbers were protected by the Public Information Act. In the particular state law under the section “Rights of Requestors – You have the right to: Prompt access to information that is not confidential or otherwise protected” The law also provides specific information on what is determined to be directory information and the student’s education record. (See policy under sources)
Simply put, when you fill out that little enrollment card it includes your student’s information and the parent information. You may indicate the level of release of that information. In my case, I choose no release of this information. It is to be used only by the school, the district, teachers or administrators as needed to contact me. Apparently those instructions were ignored, since telephone calls were received from some “committee” to encourage me to vote.
Thursday morning (Oct. 28), the school district communicated with parents. Further information revealed that the calls were generated by “Katy’s Best Committee” via robo calls and that: due to the system used to generate the calls the more people “hung up” the more they were called back; and that the committee received the list of telephone numbers from the school district in compliance with the Public Information Act.
The school district reports that a public information request had been made in April and that it asked “phone numbers only of parents, staff and volunteers of Katy ISD who currently reside within the boundaries of Katy ISD. The district provided the requested phone numbers but said no other information such as parent or student names were given. Because the Public Information Act does not provide an exception for the district to withhold secondary numbers, such as cell phone or work numbers, and considers this information public, the district is obligated under law to release these numbers as well,” the statement said. “In addition, the district, by law, is not permitted to ask a requestor why they are asking for the information, or what they intend to do with it.”
However, I can tell you from personal experience that my secondary number as well as my husband’s are clearly marked as not to be released. It is part of the Education Record, not the Directory Information.
Parents are now asking “Were our privacy rights violated?” and “What is KISD going to do about it?” I don’t know about other voters, but I would hazard a guess that many would be “turned off” by the tactics used on this very passionate issue, and decide to vote “No” because how can we trust them with our money if we can’t trust them with our information?
The Public Information Act
Emails to parents in KISD
KISD policy statement: “Katy ISD is required to provide information to any member of the public who asks for it under the Texas Public Information Act. While the Family Educational Rights and Privacy ACT (FERPA), the federal privacy law affecting education, limits the disclosure of some kinds of information, FERPA dies not protect against disclosure of “directory information.” This means that directory information on a student, as defined above, is not confidential unless a parent/guardian indicates that it should be made so. Non-directory information is private and will not be released to the general public.”