By Terry Dean
When Kim Werner requested a copy of a teacher recommendation for her child that was sent from her middle school to Oak Park and River Forest High School when her son started his freshmen year this fall, she was turned down by District 97.
She then requested the information from the high school and received it. Werner later filed a lawsuit against the Oak Park elementary school district, claiming that the district violated state law regarding who has access to a student's records.
The complaint was filed in June. District 97 declined to comment on the suit. "It is the district's policy not to comment on any litigation," said Chris Jasculca, the district's communications coordinator via an email. Werner declined to speak to the Journal about the suit and directed the paper to contact her attorney.
The 15-page complaint contends that Dist. 97 for some time has had a "de facto policy" of allowing middle school teachers to provide student educational information and course recommendations to OPRF teachers and department heads concerning placement in high school courses.
Erik Newton, a Chicago attorney with the firm Lumen Law is representing Werner. He said parents should be allowed to see any written recommendations about their child that are provided by their teachers. According to Newton, Dist. 97 told Werner that it did not consider the written recommendations "student records."
Newton disagreed, citing the Illinois Student Records Act which defines student records as "any writing or other recorded information concerning a student and by which a student may be individually identified..."
The suit also contends that parents are not notified when the recommendations are being sent to the high school. Newton added that parents should receive prior notice and be allowed to inspect or perhaps even question what was written about their child. He stressed that school districts should share information and collaborate about students but should do so by following the law.
"Her son's rights were violated under the statute," he said concerning Werner's child.
Along with compensation for legal fees incurred by Werner, Newton said his client is also looking for Dist. 97 to follow the law.
"We'd like to see them try and correct this for other kids and their families," he said.
Wednesday Journal contacted the Illinois State Board of Education to speak with an official concerning student records law but did not get a return call by press time.