I’ve previously noted the difficult issue of whether OPRA requestors may obtain student records, in light of the privacy accorded to student information by education statutes. The Appellate Division recently answered this question. In a precedential opinion authored by Judge Sabatino, the court said that student records are not accessible under OPRA. L.R. v. Camden City School Dist., etc.
The plaintiffs in this case submitted OPRA requests for records related to special education students from a few school districts, and they indicated that they intended to request these records from every school district in the state. The Appellate Division held that OPRA does not grant public access to these records; instead, it said, the limitations on access to student records contained in the pertinent DOE regulations are controlling.
The court emphasized that anyone requesting such records must comply with the procedures and substantive requirements of the DOE regulations, and it highlighted that student records are not open to everyone; rather, they may be accessed only by the specific entities and individuals listed in these regulations.
The court said it was premature to address any claims for attorney fees made by plaintiffs. This leaves open an interesting question for future cases: given the court’s ruling that the DOE regulation, not OPRA, is the vehicle for obtaining student records, is OPRA’s attorney fee award provision applicable in the event of litigation over access to student records?