State Education Department rules North Shore schools violated privacy laws
North Shore school officials violated federal and state privacy laws when they gave a teacher-union representative the names, addresses and phone numbers of parents with children enrolled locally, the state Education Department has ruled.
In its Dec. 1 decision, the department's office on privacy declared that the contact information — sought to promote voter turnout during a school board election — should not have been released without parents' consent. Family lists were "personally identifiable information" related to students and protected by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as well as by state law, the privacy office ruled.
"According to the federal regulations, 'personally identifiable information' includes not only the student's name but the name of student's parents or other family members and the address of the student or his or her family," the state explained in its ruling.
The state, in the ruling, directed North Shore to review its policies regarding actions to be taken when unauthorized disclosures occur.
North Shore’s school system serves about 2,500 students in the communities of Sea Cliff, Glen Head and Glenwood Landing in northern Nassau County.
Greg Perles, president of the district’s teacher union, said in a phone interview that his organization sought the address list so it could contact parents and urge them to vote for the district's proposed budget and endorsed board candidates. Perles added, however, that the local never actually used the district-provided list, because it arrived too late, but relied instead on a list provided by the union's county headquarters.
Perles added that the union tried to follow proper procedures by filing for family addresses under the state's Freedom of Information Law. The statute spells out the public's right to government records, with certain exceptions.
"We want to support the schools, and I say that proudly," the union chief said. "We wanted to get a pro-education school board, and we're proud to say that."
The union, North Shore Federated Employees, represents 350 teachers, teacher aides and secretaries.
Leaders of a local taxpayer group who contested North Shore's release of personal information hailed the state's decision as "a victory for residents who do not want the district administration and teachers union influencing our school vote." The taxpayer activists noted that similar disputes have broken out in other districts in recent years, making the state's privacy decision significant for the Long Island region, as well as for their district.
"We feel some vindication," said Paul Puskuldjian, co-founder of the group known as Friends of North Shore Central School District. "Why do they get some advantage in a school election by calling and trying to sway voters? I think it happens all over Long Island."
District officials have indicated they will no longer disclose parent addresses and phone numbers. David Ludmar, the board president, said the disputed release appeared to stem from a misinterpretation of the Freedom of Information Law.
"Whatever the law is, I want to follow it," Ludmar said.
The North Shore district provided Perles in June 2020 with information on all families with enrolled children, according to the state's four-page ruling. In contrast, the district denied a request for the same information submitted in January by Jerry Romano, a local resident and co-founder of the Friends of North Shore group.
In May, Puskuldjian lost his bid for a board seat by 70 votes, out of thousands of ballots cast.
As justification for the denial, North Shore cited a ruling issued by the state privacy office in August 2020 declaring that a get-out-the vote effort was not sufficient reason to justify release of school records related to student privacy.