FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Ms. Alice Jones
The staff of
the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized
to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion
is based solely upon the information presented in your e-mail
of January 29, 2001.
Dear Ms. Jones:
You have asked whether
the superintendent of schools may, under the Virginia Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA), release information concerning
whether a particular individual ever attended public schools
in the county. You indicate that no county-wide database exists
where you could find such a record in response to the request,
but that you would have to call each of the seven schools
in your county in order to determine if such a record exists.
You ask whether FOIA obligates you to perform this countywide
search in response to the request.
A of § 2.1-342 of the Code of Virginia, all public records
must be open for inspection unless specifically provided by
law. Subdivision A. 1. of § 2.1-342.01 does exempt scholastic
records concerning identifiable individuals. However, § 22.1-287
provides that directory information may be released in accordance
with federal law. The federal Family Educational and Privacy
Rights Act (FERPA) addresses the disclosure of scholastic
or education records. Similar to the FOIA exemption, FERPA
prohibits the release of educational records that contain
personally identifiable information.1 However,
this prohibition does not apply to directory information,
which includes a student's dates of attendance at a school.
In order to release the directory information, the school
must give public notice of the type of information that it
will include in its directory and allow reasonable time for
a parent, or the student if over the age of 18, to inform
the school that all or some of the directory information should
not be made public concerning that particular student. If
this public notice is not given, then the written consent
of the parent, or student if over the age of 18, must be obtained
before it may be released.
requested in this instance would clearly be directory information.
You indicate that 1968 is the year of birth of the individual
about whom information was requested. FERPA was enacted in
1974 and thus would have been in effect for most, if not all,
of the years which the individual may have attended public
school in the county. As such, in order to release records
of the individual's dates of attendance, you would have to
either ensure that his parents were given notice of and did
not object to the release of his dates of attendance as part
of the school's directory information, or obtain the permission
of the individual who is subject of the request to release
You also indicate
that records containing the individual's dates of attendance
would not be located at the office of the superintendent of
schools, and that you would have to call each of the schools
within the county to see if such a document existed. Subsection
A of § 2.1-342 of the Code of Virginia states that all
public records shall be open to inspection and copying by
any citizens of the Commonwealth during the regular office
hours of the custodian of such records. (Emphasis
added.) If your office does not maintain these records, then
you are under no obligation to search for them in other offices.
The appropriate public bodies from whom the requestor should
request the records would be the individual schools within
the county where the individual might have attended school.
Thank you for contacting
this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Maria J.K. Everett
§ 1232g (b)(1).