The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas recently issued a decision on the Ohio Education Association's (OEA) request for a permanent injunction preventing the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) from releasing or publishing certain information concerning individuals licensed by ODE. Therein, the court held that the residential address, home telephone number, and personal email address of ODE's licensees are not "records" and are thus not required to be disclosed under the Public Records Act ("PRA").
In this case, OEA sought to permanently enjoin ODE from producing the above-referenced documents in response to a public records request. OEA claimed that: (1) the harm done by the release of the residential addresses, home telephone numbers, and personal email addresses of ODE's licensees is irreparable, (2) the public interest would be served by granting the injunction because doing so protects the privacy interest of those whose personal information would be disclosed, (3) no evidence was presented of any harm to ODE or anyone else, (4) R.C. 1347.05(G) prohibits the release of any personal information that does not constitute a public record, and (5) the residential address, home telephone number, and personal email address of individuals licensed by ODE are not "public records" and are therefore not required to be released by the PRA.
In granting the injunction, the court rejected ODE's assertion that the records in question are "records" that it is required to disclose under the PRA. ODE contended that since the General Assembly had not enacted an exception to the PRA to exempt licensee's personal information, such records must be produced under the PRA. The court disagreed, noting that the failure to enact an exception for this personal information could have been the result of the General Assembly's belief that residential addresses, home telephone numbers, and personal email addresses were not within the scope of the disclosure requirement. Therefore, there was no need for an exempt them from disclosure under the PRA.
The court reasoned that the Ohio Supreme Court in State ex rel. Dispatch Printing Co. v. Johnson had decided a substantially similar issue when it held that "state-employee home addresses are generally not "records" under R.C. 149.011(G) and are thus not subject to disclosure under R.C. 149.43, the Public Records Act." The court found that licensees of ODE and state employees were equivalent for purposes of determining whether their personal information would be considered "records". The residential address, home telephone number, and personal email address of ODE licensees and state employees are used for the same general purposes, and employees of both entities have similar privacy interests relating to that personal information.
The court concluded by noting that there was no reason to suspect that the burden to ODE of redacting this personal information from a licensee's record is any more burdensome than redacting the same personal information from a state employee's record, which is already required.
Lessons learned from this case:
Unless overturned by a higher court, it appears that a licensed school employee's home address, telephone number and personal email address are not subject to disclosure under the PRA. A school board may legally deny a request for such information, and should redact this information from public records that otherwise are to be produced in response to a public records request