Dianne Barrett's case was in court for more than 15 months; the ruling took only a few minutes.
During a brief hearing Friday morning at the DuPage County Judicial Center in Wheaton, Judge Thomas Dudgeon announced his decision to side with and dismiss District 86 board member Barrett’s suit against Superintendant Dr. Nicholas Wahl and Board President Dennis Brennan seeking unfettered access to the district’s student records.
Dudgeon said his decision was based on access restrictions contained in the Illinois Student Records Act (ISRA). According to the judge, Barrett’s side never presented a rationale for how she qualifies for unfettered access under ISRA and Barrett’s status as a school board member alone does not qualify her.
“As far as I’m concerned, that puts an end to the case,” Dudgeon said. “The case is concluded.”
Director Natalie Brouwer Potts of the Center for Open Government, which has provided counsel for Barrett, attended Friday’s hearing with her client. Potts said Barrett will either appeal the decision or ask to re-plead the case in front of Dudgeon. She said Barrett's team has 30 days to review Dudgeon’s decision and take further action.
Potts said she doesn’t view Friday's ruling as a declaration that Barrett is not entitled to student records, but that the board member “did not ask the right way.” Potts said Barrett’s counsel wasn’t given the chance to show how Barrett qualifies for access under ISRA.
“Dianne Barrett is fully entitled under ISRA as someone who is qualified to see school records,” Potts said.
, Dudgeon cited Section 6(a) of ISRA, which sets the conditions for when a person can have access to student records. For employees and officials of a school district to have access, according to the ISRA, they must show “current demonstrable educational or administrative interest in the student, in furtherance of such interest.”
Attorney James Petrungaro represented the district at Friday’s hearing and said afterwards that the district is happy with Dudgeon’s decision and it will prevent board members who don’t prove their need for access from getting that access.
“It established that the confidentiality of students and student records prevails over a curious board member,” Petrungaro said of the ruling.
The case stems from requests filed by Barrett in July 2009 seeking documents related to special-education-related issues. She took legal action in July 2010 after the district gave her documents with what her lawyers have said was significant redaction. The district has maintained that what was redacted was confidential student information.
When asked if he thought Friday’s ruling put an end to the case, Petrungaro said he did not know.
“I would hope it’s over so that the school district can stop fighting lawsuits brought by its own board members,” he said.