Accessing information on claims against school districts
Q: Are claims filed against a school district public records and if so can a district redact names of minors or other information mentioned in such claims for any reason?
A: The issue of access to Tort Claims Act claim forms has come up in several cases. It is by now clear that claim forms are not exempt from disclosure under the pending litigation exemption (Gov. Code section 6254(b). In Poway Unified School District v. Superior Court, 62 Cal. App. 4th 1496 (1998), the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, which includes Riverside, held a claim form presented by a student would not be exempt under either the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) or its state equivalent, Education Code section 49060, both of which require a school district to keep certain student records confidential. However, the court was less clear about whether, and to what extent, a school district might be able to withhold all or a portion of a claim form submitted by a student on privacy grounds. While the court noted that “one who submits a tort claim has no reasonable expectation of privacy,” and found that the claim form could not be withheld on state constitutional privacy grounds under the facts of that case, the court went on to note that the minor victim had not exercised his options for pursuing confidentiality under certain provisions of the Welfare and Institutions Code and the Penal Code. In the event those provisions have been invoked in a particular case or there were other facts supporting a claim of privacy, the school district might be able to argue that a victim’s name or other particulars of the claim form could be withheld to protect privacy rights.