Miriam PearlmutterOhio House Bill 425, which took effect April 2019, exempts images of students captured on a resource officer’s body camera from disclosure in response to a public records request.

Some Peace Officers – including School Resource Officers (“SROs”) – wear body cameras, which occasionally capture images of children. The statute clarifies that images of children – and any information that could lead to identifying prominently featured children – do not have to be produced in response to a public records request. Under this law, even a parent’s consent does not authorize the release of these images in response to a public records request. Importantly, however, this statute does not affect school districts’ obligation to provide parents with educational records as required by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). If a parent requests educational records, which include body camera images of their own child, the district is likely obligated to provide access to said footage following FERPA requirements.  This, of course, assumes that the video has been shared with the district. If the video was not shared with the district by the SRO (or the police department), it is not “maintained” by the district and cannot be an educational record under FERPA.

A person seeking public records which include such student images may ask the Ohio Court of Claims to consider whether the public interest outweighs the child’s privacy. If the court finds that the public interest in the recordings substantially outweigh student privacy interests, it will order the records released.

The new law also exempts school districts’ infrastructure records from mandatory disclosure. Specifically, the configuration of critical systems – ventilation, water, security codes, electrical, mechanical, communication, computer, or the infrastructure or structural configuration of a building – do not have to be produced in response to a public records request.   However, simple floor plans depicting only the spatial relationship of components of the building may be disclosed.

In light of HB 425, school districts may want to review and update policies and guidelines relating to public records.

Miriam Pearlmutter is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at mpearlmutter@walterhav.com or at 216-619-7861.

John Moenk is a law clerk with the Education Law group at Walter | Haverfield. He can be reached at jmoenk@walterhav.com or at 216-619-7884.