Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Help Me Howard: School Release Form
Here is a question. If a criminal wanted to get a picture of your child, along with their full name, would your school give it to them? The answer, yes. That upset one mother so much she called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Jeanette's 5-year-old daughter recently took a big step and started kindergarten.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "I was confident of her, of her skills and of her personality. She's a pretty strong kid already, and I knew she would do well. In fact, she was great."
No first-day jitters for Mareva, but a different issue shook up Jeanette.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "And I wanted her to have class photos and group photos, but part of that, in order for me to get those, I had to sign a release."
Broward County parents who want their kids to have class pictures and be in the school's yearbook have to sign this form.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "I understand the District is required to release this information if requested by the media or other members of the public."
And giving her child's information to anyone who requests it scares Jeanette.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "Because, in this time of technology, if her last name is put up somewhere, on a photo, her last name is a name that no one else has, and she can be found, just like this."
Jeanette's last name is very unusual. It's why we are using her maiden name in the story, and she says if someone got her daughter's last name, it would not be hard to find her home address.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "That bothered me because the matter of public record of our house purchase, our water bill, everything like that, and, yeah, the flag that comes up is pedophiles. It scares me, and that's the flag that came up."
Since this is her daughter's first year in school, she asked parents with older children if signing the release worried them and found many didn't realize what the form allowed.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "You know, hey, did you see this, and they were pretty shocked once they saw it."
Parents can refuse the school's request and check no on the form, but then their child will not have their class picture taken or be included in the school annual and Jeanette wants those pictures.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "I want the memories. I have memories of when I was a kid, some of them are black and white, but I want her to have the same opportunity."
Some people might think Jeanette is worrying too much. She does not think so.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "You have to be a parent. Somebody has to watch out. If you don't watch out for your kid who is?"
So, Howard, can the school district legally release your child's name and picture, and who can they release it to?
Howard Finkelstein: "Yes, if you are in a public school, and you sign this form, your child's name, grade, and picture can be released to anyone who requests it because the law considers it a public record. If that scares you, do not give them permission."
A spokesperson with Broward Schools told us, since the district is a public entity, we are required to follow Florida's public records law, and if anyone requests school yearbooks and school newspapers we must supply them, but they added, only the information in the publication will be provided. For a parent, the information age has its pluses and minuses.
Howard Finkelstein: "Parents are right to be concerned but also realize we live in a time where almost anybody in the world can find out almost anything about anyone. To keep your child's privacy, you can't release their name to anyone, and that's virtually impossible."
Jeanette has now signed the form, so her daughter can be in the class picture but wishes the school district could find a way to protect the children's identities.
Jeanette Ehrbar: "I was hoping I could make enough noise where someone would pay attention and maybe listen, and say, 'gosh, she may have a point.'"
And while every school district in Florida has to provide a kid's name and picture if it's in the yearbook, the school is not allowed to give out anything else, like grades or home addresses, and these are public schools. Private schools are different and don't have to give any information to the public.
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