A sign of the times. Is this what it’s come to?

 A man named Keith Knauss of Kennett Square filed a right-to-know request asking Unionville-Chadds Ford School District for access to its master schedule for students, teachers and classrooms, with unique identifiers in place of student names.

 The district denied him, the office of open records granted his appeal, and the district has taken it to Chester County Common Pleas Court.

 In its filing, the district makes some rational points as to why it shouldn’t have to release the schedule. This, however, does not seem to be one of them:

 “Ms. Parker and Mr. Hug — both experts in their fields — are of the opinion that disclosure of the Schedule to the public would be reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to or the personal security of an individual; thus, the Schedule is exempt from public access under the RTKL.”
 The Schedule, it says, would reveal when large numbers of students were gathered, and “A person seeking to harm as many students as possible would be aided by such information.”

 Seriously? That appears to say that there is an existing death threat to the students and/or faculty at district schools, and that to release the schedule would allow someone to carry out mass murder. (Note the language “substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm.”)

 I suspect if that were true, we’d all know about it, because the school would have had to have taken safety precautions well before someone requested access to the school schedule. Not to mention that it wouldn’t take access to a schedule for someone to figure out when schoolkids would be at lunch.

 But maybe it’s a sign of the times. Maybe all school districts operate under constant fear that there is someone waiting to do their students harm. If so, that’s sad. And it doesn’t seem to be a necessary argument in this case, given the district’s other stated reasons why the schedule shouldn’t be public.

 Your thoughts?

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
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2 Responses to A sign of the times. Is this what it’s come to?

  1. megan says:

    I don’t think that statement implies that there is an existing threat. I agree it’s strongly worded (“reasonably likely to result”), but not that it’s telling of a current threat. It makes perfect sense to me why a school district is wary of releasing details on when large groups of students would be together for assemblies, lunch, etc.
    I’m all for open records, but the safety of students is foremost I wouldn’t like knowing someone has access to my child’s school’s schedule.

  2. Chronic Iguana says:

    There is some relevant case law on this. We have to go back to Tinker v. Des Moines for guidance.
    In a nutshell, the Supreme Court of the United States (Justice Fortas writing for the majority) said that a school system can’t raise the argument of potential harm based on the notion that a “possibility” of some bad result exists. Or, to quote the district’s argument in the instant case, “would be reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm …”
    Which pretty much means “hey, judge, it could happen.” Not good enough, according to the Tinker court, which held that that the predicted harm had to essentially be inevitable. “Reasonably likely” is a whole different critter than inevitable.
    Let the school district take its appeal. Let the district lose. Let the district then explain why it wasted a bunch of taxpayer dollars on an appeal that was DOA.

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