Are School Yearbooks Public Records?
Q: I would like to know if Student Yearbooks held by a school district are considered public records. I recently contacted a District about it and was informed they would not allow me to review the yearbooks.
A: The California Public Records Act (“PRA”) provides that public records are presumptively open to the public, unless exempt from disclosure under the PRA. Government Code section 6254(k) exempts from disclosure “[r]ecords the disclosure of which is exempted or prohibited pursuant to federal or state law.” Section 49076 of the California Education Code specifically prohibits access to pupil records: “[a] school district is not authorized to permit access to pupil records to any person without written parental consent or under judicial order” except in certain situations.
The Education Code defines “pupil record” as “any item of information directly related to an identifiable pupil, other than directory information, which is maintained by a school district or required to be maintained by an employee in the performance of his or her duties whether recorded by handwriting, print, tapes, film, microfilm or other means.” Educ. Code § 49061(b). The Education Code defines “directory information” as the “pupil’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, and the most recent previous public or private school attended by the pupil.” Educ. Code § 94061(c).
The school district may be taking the position that in addition to information that would be considered directory information under the Education Code, yearbooks also contain other information (e.g., photographs of students) that relate to identifiable pupils and are maintained by the school district or are required to be maintained by an employee and that they are thus pupil records that may not be disclosed absent parental permission.
You could try contacting the school again and submitting a written PRA request. The PRA requires agencies to provide you with the documents requested, or notify you that your request has been denied, within 10 days. Gov’t. Code § 6253. You might also want to remind the district that if the written request is denied, it is obligated to back its denial by citing an exemption in the PRA or other state or federal law allowing it to withhold the records you seek, Gov’t code § 6255, and that if you are forced to litigate this matter, you are entitled to attorneys’ fees if you prevail. Govt. Code § 6259(d) (“The court shall award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the plaintiff should the plaintiff prevail in litigation filed pursuant to this section. The costs and fees shall be paid by the public agency of which the public official is a member or employee and shall not become a personal liability of the public official. If the court finds that the plaintiff’s case is clearly frivolous, it shall award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the public agency.”).
A sample PRA request is available on CFAC’s website at the following link: http://www.cfac.org/templates/cpraletter.html.