|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
November 22, 2000
Mr. Joe Hairston
Dear Mr. Hairston:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 141633.
The Magnolia Independent School District (the "district"), which you represent, received a request for information concerning a district investigation of one of its employees. You claim that the information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.102, 552.107, 552.111, and 552.114 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
The district argues that two of the documents submitted are excepted from required public disclosure under section 552.107 of the Government Code. Section 552.107(1) excepts information that an attorney cannot disclose because of a duty to her client. Only "privileged information," that is, information that reflects either confidential communications from the client to the attorney or the attorney's legal advice or opinions is excepted from public disclosure by section 552.107; it does not apply to all client information held by a governmental body's attorney. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 5. (1990). Section 552.107(1) does not except purely factual information from disclosure, nor does it protect information gathered by an attorney as a fact-finder. Open Records Decision Nos. 574 (1990), 559 (1990), 462 (1987). Section 552.107(1) does not except from disclosure factual recounting of events or the documentation of calls made, meetings attended, and memoranda sent. Open Records Decision No. 574 at 5 (1990). We agree that the two letters submitted constitute an attorney's legal advice or confidential client communications excepted from public disclosure by section 552.107. Thus, the district may withhold these two letters.
We next address the responsive information that the district identifies as "student records." The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 ("FERPA") provides that no federal funds will be made available under any applicable program to an educational agency or institution that releases personally identifiable information (other than directory information) contained in a student's education records to anyone but certain enumerated federal, state, and local officials and institutions, unless otherwise authorized by the student's parent. See 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1). "Education records" means those records that contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution. Id. § 1232g(a)(4)(A). Information must be withheld from required public disclosure under FERPA only to the extent "reasonable and necessary to avoid personally identifying a particular student." See Open Records Decision Nos. 332 (1982), 206 (1978). This office generally applies the same analysis under section 552.114 and FERPA. Open Records Decision No. 539 (1990).
Section 552.114 excepts from disclosure student records at an educational institution funded completely or in part by state revenue. Section 552.026 provides as follows:
This chapter does not require the release of information contained in education records of an educational agency or institution, except in conformity with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, Sec. 513, Pub. L. No. 93-380, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g.
In Open Records Decision No. 634 (1995), this office concluded that (1) an educational agency or institution may withhold from public disclosure information that is protected by FERPA and excepted from required public disclosure by sections 552.026 and 552.101 without the necessity of requesting an attorney general decision as to those exceptions, and (2) an educational agency or institution that is state-funded may withhold from public disclosure information that is excepted from required public disclosure by section 552.114 as a "student record," insofar as the "student record" is protected by FERPA, without the necessity of requesting an attorney general decision as to that exception. Therefore, to the extent the responsive information qualifies as student identifying information contained in a student's education record, the information is excepted from disclosure under FERPA and section 552.114 of the Government Code, and the district need not request a decision from this office to withhold the information.
Based on our findings, we need not reach the remainder of the asserted exceptions. This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408,411 (Tex. App.--Austin 1992, no writ).
Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to the General Services Commission at 512/475-2497.
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
Nathan E. Bowden
Ref: ID# 141633
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Janice B. Sager, President
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US