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School Records of Bullies Can Stay Confidential

(CN) - A New Jersey parent cannot sue a school board to access records about the alleged bullying of his children, a state appeals court ruled.

K.L. sued the Evesham Township Board of Education last year after it refused to turn over records regarding the bullying of his son and daughter, who attended public elementary schools in the central New Jersey township.

Withholding the records allegedly violated the Open Public Records Act as well as K.L.'s right to access public records under common law.

He had asked for records of four incidents in December 2009 and January 2010 involving his children. But the superintendent released only the student records of K.L.'s own children, saying the records of other students are privileged and exempt. by attorney-client privilege, as well as state and federal privacy laws.

After the trial court said the parents of the alleged bullies could consent to the production of redacted documents, the school board produced one disciplinary form detailing that a student who was suspended after admitting to punching and kicking a student. K.L.'s son was not mentioned by name in the document.

Ultimately the trial court dismissed K.L.'s complaint, saying he was not entitled to the board's 11 pages of notes regarding staff contacts with K.L. and his children. The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed on different grounds.

"We do not agree [with the trial court] that they are privileged as attorney-client communications, but we conclude that the trial court correctly characterized the notes as attorney work product material subject to a qualified privilege," Judge Victor Ashrafi wrote for a three-member panel.

The Dec. 12 decision also notes that New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Statute "does not expressly require disclosure of a written investigative report, notes or any other designated school records."

K.L. can recoup attorneys' fees for "prevailing" on the one document the trial court ordered the school board to produce.

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