Click for home page
Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
GREG ABBOTT
image
 

December 19, 2002

Ms. Carolyn Hanahan
Feldman & Rogers, L.L.P.
5718 Westheimer, Suite 1200
Houston, Texas 77057

OR2002-7291

Dear Ms. Hanahan:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 174073.

The Clear Creek Independent School District (the "district"), which you represent, received two requests for information including a letter of reprimand issued to a particular teacher. You state that you have provided the requestors with "all the information they sought, with the exception of one document," which you claim is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information. We have also considered comments submitted on behalf of one of the requestors. See Gov't Code 552.304 (providing for submission of public comments).

Initially, we note that the district has not sought an open records decision from this office within the ten business day time period prescribed by section 552.301 of the Government Code. When a governmental body fails to comply with the procedural requirements of section 552.301, the information at issue is presumed public. See Gov't Code 552.302; Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381 (Tex. App.-Austin 1990, no writ); City of Houston v. Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co., 673 S.W.2d 316, 323 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, no writ); Open Records Decision No. 319 (1982). To overcome this presumption, the governmental body must show a compelling interest to withhold the information. See Gov't Code 552.302; Hancock, 797 S.W.2d at 381. Normally, a compelling interest is that some other source of law makes the information confidential or that third party interests are at stake. Open Records Decision No. 150 at 2 (1977). As the presumption of openness can be overcome by a showing that information is confidential by law, we will consider your arguments under section 552.101.

Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by other statutes. Section 21.355 of the Education Code provides, "A document evaluating the performance of a teacher or administrator is confidential." This office interpreted this section to apply to any document that evaluates, as that term is commonly understood, the performance of a teacher or administrator. Open Records Decision No. 643 (1996). In that opinion, this office also concluded that a teacher is someone who is required to hold and does hold a certificate or permit required under chapter 21 of the Education Code and is teaching at the time of his or her evaluation. Id. Similarly, an administrator is someone who is required to hold and does hold a certificate required under chapter 21 of the Education Code and is administering at the time of his or her evaluation. Id. We have reviewed the document you seek to withhold and conclude that this letter of reprimand does not evaluate the performance of a teacher for purposes of section 21.355 of the Education Code. Thus, the submitted document is not confidential under section 21.355. As you claim no other exception to disclosure, this letter must be released.

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 Hadassah Schloss at the Texas Building and Procurement 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. We note that a third party may challenge this ruling by filing suit seeking to withhold information from a requestor. Gov't Code 552.325. 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.

Sincerely,

Denis C. McElroy
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division
DCM/lmt
Ref: ID# 174073
Enc. Submitted documents

c: Ms. Michelle L. Edwards
2114 Bristol Breeze Lane
League City, Texas 77573
(w/o enclosures)

Ms. Cassandra Fuller
451 Constellation # 802
League City, Texas 77573
(w/o enclosures)


 

POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US
An Equal Employment Opportunity Employer


Home | ORLs