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Kane County says releasing grades for employee’s publicly-funded DeVry education would violate her privacy

GENEVA – Releasing the class records and corresponding grades for a Kane County employee who received a nearly $60,000 taxpayer-funded education at DeVry University would violate her privacy rights, officials argued in a letter to the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

The county also maintained in correspondence with the state attorney general’s Public Access Counselor that it cannot provide the records because it doesn’t have them, and officials argued they should not be considered public documents.

The Kane County Chronicle sought the documents in a Freedom of Information Act request to the county seeking records pertaining to an Information Technologies Department employee’s classes and grades earned at DeVry University. The county denied the request on the grounds that it did not retain the records.

The newspaper appealed the decision to the state attorney general’s Public Access Counselor, which asked for a detailed description of the measures the county took to find the records, its record-keeping system and specific individuals and departments that were consulted.

“Staff for the county’s Information Technologies Department searched emails, electronic files and employee HR (Human Resources) records,” according to the county’s response through the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office. “Staff with the IT Department have spoken with the employee about the FOIA request, but have not required her to produce her class schedule and grades in response to the FOIA.”

IT staff reached out to former employees, but no records were located, the explanation stated.

“Individual employees recalled (the employee) showing them completion of her courses and grades, but did not recall such records being kept or requesting copies of them,” according to the State’s Attorney’s Office’s explanation.

The county asserted the employee’s courses and grades were not public records as defined by the Freedom of Information Act because “they are records relating to that individual’s college courses and grades and not the transaction of public business or a governmental function.”

In response, the Kane County Chronicle restated that the county made 17 payments to DeVry University to pay for one employee’s tuition and that the public is entitled to know what classes were taken and what grades were earned.

The State’s Attorney’s Office countered the newspaper’s assertion that a public entity cannot dodge its obligation to provide a public record by saying it is in the possession of a third party.

The newspaper also asserted that the Freedom of Information Act covers records “received by” the county. In its first response to the Attorney General’s Office, the county stated that a former manager looked at the classes and grades and gave the documents back to the employee.

The county also asserted that “a person’s college transcript information is personal information, the disclosure of which would be disclosure of highly personal information … with the subject’s right to privacy outweighing any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information.”

“The course grades of an individual employee do not impact or bear on the public duties of a public employee or the public business of the county,” according to the county’s response.

The Public Access Counselor will announce a determination and issue a binding or non-binding opinion.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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