Appellate Court Protects Student Records from Disclosure in Grievance Proceeding


Appellate Court Protects Student Records from Disclosure in Grievance Proceeding

Jan 24, 2014

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In a recent decision, the Illinois Appellate Court held that a school district did not commit an unfair labor practice when it refused to release student records to a union during a grievance proceeding. The court stated that Section 6 of the Illinois School Student Records Act bars disclosure of such records without a court order, or parental consent.

The Facts

Board of Education of the City of Chicago v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, stemmed from the termination of a school security officer for initiating physical altercations with two students at the school. The employee’s union initiated a grievance proceeding and requested the students’ disciplinary records. The Board of Education of the City of Chicago (“School Board”) refused to produce the records, even after the arbitrator issued a subpoena for the documents, claiming the records were confidential under the Illinois School Student Records Act, 105 ILCS 10/6, (“Student Records Act”).

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge, alleging that the School Board’s decision to withhold the students’ records violated section 14(a)(5) of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (“Labor Relations Act”), which requires that an employer bargain collectively in good faith with an employee representative. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (“IELRB”) found that the School Board committed an unfair labor practice and ordered that the School Board release the students’ records. The School Board appealed the IELRB’s decision to the Illinois Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The Appellate Court reversed the decision of the IELRB and held that student disciplinary records are protected from disclosure under the Student Records Act in grievances before the IELRB, unless the union obtains a court order for the release of the records.

The Court stated that there was no conflict between the Student Records Act and the Labor Relations Act, which generally requires that the Board provide the Union with relevant information upon request, because the Student Records Act allows for the release of student records only pursuant to a court order or parental consent. Thus, if a school board refuses to release student records to a union, even after an arbitrator issues a subpoena, the union may request a court order to enforce the subpoena. The Court explained that this process balances the interests of the school district in protecting confidential student records with the union’s interest in obtaining relevant information so they can perform their obligations.

The Significance of the Court’s Decision

This decision emphasizes the strong protections the Student Records Act provides for student records and reminds administrators that absent a court order a school board should not release confidential student records during a grievance proceeding.  

Additionally, it is likely that the court’s decision can be applied to other types of adversarial proceedings in which student records are involved. For example, if student records are requested by a union during a teacher dismissal hearing, this decision suggests that the union would have to seek a court order to obtain such records for the proceedings. This decision affirms the strong student record protections provided for in the Student Records Act.

This Law Alert was prepared by Emily B. Taub, an associate in the firm’s Chicago office.