Court backs local family over school district
By Carrie Pederson
Friday 16, 2007 - Washington State

The Washington State Supreme Court today ordered the Kelso School District to release a school bus surveillance video that it had denied to a family who wants to review it for evidence that their son was bullied.

The high court's 7-2 ruling overturned Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning's March 2004 denial of the request for the tape by Richard and Ginger Lindeman of Kelso.

The Lindemans assert that the school bus video of Oct. 8, 2003, shows another student repeatedly kicking and hitting their son during the ride to Rose Valley Elementary School. 

The district allowed the Lindemans to watch the tape that day, but officials later refused to give them a copy, saying it is a record of students' personal information and exempt from disclosure under the state Open Records Act.

In a decision hailed by advocates of open government, the court rejected that reasoning and awarded the Lindemans' attorney fees, costs, and penalties, the amount of which were unavailable Thursday. 

The state open record law exempts personal information such as students' grades, test scores, evaluations and class schedules from public disclosure, according to the court.

But a surveillance tape "differs significantly from the type of record that schools maintain in students' personnel files. Merely placing the videotape in a location designated as a student's file does not transform the videotape into a record maintained for students," the according to the majority opinion.

Mark Hottowe, director of student services for the Kelso School District, said the district would have no comment until its attorney reviews the Supreme Court decision. Lawyers for the district and the Lindemans did not return repeated phone calls Thursday.

Ginger Lindeman said the family would have no comment "until we talk to our lawyer." 

In the decision, the high court reaffirmed that privacy exemptions in the state Open Records Act must be interpreted narrowly.

"This case is important because it clarified the law on the disclosure on school records," said Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group LCC and a former assistant state attorney general who specialize in open government issues.

"A fair number of public records requests are to school districts. Now there is more clarity on what needs to be disclosed." Overstreet said.

"Identification is not personal," said Rowland Thompson, executive director Allied Daily Newspapers, the Olympia-based lobbying group for the newspaper industry. "If that were the case you couldn't have surveillance cameras in public or private areas."

The Lindemans' son was placed in counseling following the bus incident, and at the time Ginger Lindeman complained the school district had not done enough to protect her son from repeated bullying. She eventually pulled both her children out of school and home-schooled them.

At the time, school officials said the district followed its anti-bullying policies, which had been adopted a month before the bus incident, and that the aggressor's behavior had improved after stepped-up disciplinary action.




The Lawsuit

The Complaint for Damages
The Rest of the Story
The Assault
Suicide - The Forseeable Consequences of Bullying
Why the Pasco School District wouldn't help Jared

Court Case about Videos on a bus & bullying


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