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Molalla River School District continues to investigate Renaissance Public Academy over alleged student privacy breach

The Molalla River School District continues its investigation into district charter school Renaissance Public Academy regarding alleged student privacy violations, and is seeking further documentation from the school.

Investigation background

The current investigation, which follows at least one previous investigation into the charter school in the last three years, was first brought up at the November Molalla board meeting. The investigation is in response to a complaint filed by the charter school's previous administrator Michael Gibson, suggesting that a secretary and a board member may have shared confidential student information.

At that November meeting, some Molalla board members, along with Superintendent Tony Mann, gave the sense that they felt RPA was not fully complying with the investigation by not providing the district, or the district's investigator, with the full report from their own internal investigation.

RPA board member Douhet Wilcox told the Pioneer at the time that their attorney was concerned disclosing the full report would be a violation of attorney-client privilege.

"We reviewed it as a board and discussed it, and then all those hard copies were collected and destroyed," Wilcox said in November. "So, there are very few people that have seen it because of the [attorney-client privilege]."

Molalla board member Ralph Gierke in November went so far as to make a motion to require RPA to provide the report within seven days or the district would vote on a notice of intent to terminate the charter agreement with the school. Other board members felt this action was rash and premature, and the motion was shot down.

Yet now, Molalla's board has implemented a timeline for RPA to comply with their specific requests.

Molalla board seeks more documentation

In February, Molalla board member Neal Lucht made a motion to direct Mann to draft a letter of demand to RPA's board, requesting three items by Friday, March 1 at 4 p.m. to determine whether RPA properly responded to the alleged breach of student information.

The three items include: the letter that RPA wrote to parents about the breach of confidential student information, a list of the parents to whom the letter was sent, and all 1,500-1,700 emails identified in the original complaint that were reviewed by the RPA board members as part of their internal investigation before sending a smaller collection to legal counsel.

"I view this motion not as an ending point of this particular issue," Lucht said, "but that of a beginning. In living up to our responsibility on this board to continually monitor and strive for the safety of all students of the Molalla River School District, we need to take this action at this time to assure the patrons of our district and this board that proper notification has been given to all those involved."

There was no public discussion in February about the potential to terminate the charter agreement with RPA.

What's the big deal?

Improperly handling student information can be considered a violation of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, a federal law protecting the disclosure of students' personally identifiable information.

There are some exceptions under FERPA, including that directory information can be shared with third parties. According to the U.S. Department of Education, directory information includes information such as name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, participation in officially recognized activities and sports and dates of attendance.

Gierke suggested that the information breach included names, dates, addresses and "actions taken."

"The said emails were between a secretary in the office and board members, which is in reality, a gross lack of responsibility as it relates to FERPA," Gierke said after Lucht made the motion.

He added, "I may be a board member, but I know that I can't walk into any school and ask about a given student…So that, in reality, is a breaking of the law, and consequently that's something that we all have to follow whether we like it or not."

However, Wilcox indicated that RPA's investigation found there were no FERPA violations.

"It was an internal problem, we investigated it, found that there were no legal violations of any kind," Wilcox said in November. "We worked with our attorney to make sure that everything was according to code and policies…and then we gave a brief report to Tony Mann when we were done, saying this is what the accusations were, and this is what we discovered and what we decided to do as a result of the investigation."

Molalla's board approved Lucht's motion unanimously to demand more information from RPA's board.

On Friday, March 1 after 4 p.m., Mann said he had not received any documents from RPA.


Kristen Wohlers
Reporter
503-263-7512
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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