On September 29, 2022, the Appellate Division published an opinion in L.R. v. Cherry Hill Board of Education. (Disclosure: we are co-counsel for Plaintiff L.R.). The opinion is available here. Because the opinion is published, it is binding across the State. The opinion addresses ongoing issues related to when and how broadly records that are related to students may be disclosed under OPRA.
In this OPRA case, L.R. sought copies of settlement agreements. Cherry Hill produced the settlement agreements, but redacted all student and parent names, including their initials. Plaintiff sought access to the initials. (Access to initials is important because without the initials, it can be difficult or impossible to locate other publicly accessible information about the cases from public sources, such as eCourts or the Office of Administrative Law). The decision made several holdings.
The Court addressed whether a new regulation that was recently released by the New Jersey Department of Education required that the initials be disclosed. In that regulation, N.J.A.C. 6A:32-7.5(g)(1), states that records that have been “removed of all personally identifiable information” does not meet the definition of a student record. The Court declined to apply that regulation retroactively, and also stated that even if it were to apply the regulation retroactively, student initials are “personally identifiable information.”
The Court also distinguished the settlement agreements in this case from the recent C.E. case because C.E. concerned settlement agreements that were filed in the Office of Administrative Law. The panel in L.R. also distinguished C.E. and other cases by saying none of them addressed the “discrete issue” raised in this appeal, which was whether the initials of students should have been disclosed.
The issue of what records relating to students must be disclosed under OPRA has been a hot topic for several years now, and continues to be developed. This case is probably not the last word on student records issues.