The school board’s efforts to withhold student contact information from the state now has the endorsement of another government body in Memphis.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday, with one commissioner absent, to support the recent decision by Shelby County Schools over state-run charter schools.

And the body went a step further. It urged the school board to also include district-authorized charters in its practice of withholding student names, addresses and phone numbers.

Commissioners said the school board has a “responsibility” to withhold the information under the federal privacy law known as FERPA, which stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“It is abundantly clear that FERPA offers protections regarding who may have access to personal student information,” the resolution read. “…The Shelby County Board of Commissioners supports all current and future actions taken by the Shelby County Board of Education to ensure that students and families rights under the FERPA are protected.”

Districts in both Memphis and Nashville are sparring with the state on the issue — evidence of the uneasy relationships that those districts hold with state-run charter schools in the Achievement School District. Charter operators in the ASD say they need the information to help them recruit students, ostensibly putting the ASD and the local school systems in competition over enrollment.

The legal conflict now centers on a new state law requiring the information’s release and a provision of FERPA that gives districts discretion on who has access to the public directory list.

From left: Shelby County Commissioner Willie Brooks and Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson confer about education funding in the county’s budget in June 2016.
PHOTO CREDIT: Caroline Bauman

Commissioner Willie Brooks, a former school board member, brought the issue before the county board, which is also the funding body for local schools. He said the panel should protect Shelby County Schools from policies that negatively affect enrollment and funding.

“I think (the state) should contact parents in other ways as opposed to dipping into another organization,” he told Chalkbeat later. “There are ways by which they can canvass the community (to tell them) that the school existed rather than getting that information from SCS.”

The State Department of Education is asking a judge to intervene in Metro Nashville Public Schools’ refusal to release similar information. The state has not taken action against the Memphis’ school board since it joined Nashville in defying the state order. Nashville’s court hearing is Tuesday, Nov. 28.

Below is the County Commission’s resolution: