Virginia’s Fairfax Schools Pressed by Alleged Rape Victim for Information on Records Release

A former student from Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia is questioning how school officials accidentally disclosed her identity last month. The student, known as B.R., had won a legal battle to remain anonymous and her attorney, Andrew Brenner, filed a federal court motion requesting an explanation from the district. The motion also asked for the names of district employees involved in the documents’ production and the steps taken by the district before their release. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for December 15th.

B.R. is suing the district and former students who allegedly sexually assaulted her in 2011. The motion seeks information on the individuals responsible for her identification as well as details on the district’s handling of the documents. This revelation also raises questions about how tens of thousands of unredacted student records were mistakenly released. The documents contained confidential information such as grades, disability status, and mental health conditions.

The district has since apologized and launched an investigation into the matter. A cybersecurity firm, Woods, Rogers, Vandeventer, and Black, is handling the probe. The district’s response to the court motion may shed light on the details of the records’ release. Superintendent Michelle Reid stated that a summary of the investigation will be shared once it is completed.

Callie Oettinger, the parent who received the records, visited her local high school to review documents related to her own children. However, she discovered that the files contained information on approximately 35,000 other students. This included the full name of B.R., which was labeled as “privileged and confidential” in some of the documents. Another former student involved in a separate Title IX case against the district was also identified despite a previous agreement to use a pseudonym.

After the district issued an apology, Oettinger received a demanding email requesting the return of all files, including any physical media used to extract the information. However, legal experts claim that Oettinger has done nothing illegal and cannot be compelled to return the documents. Oettinger has assured that she will not publish any confidential information regarding children.

Oettinger sent the thumb drives to her attorney, Timothy Sandefur, who has been in contact with the district’s investigating attorneys. The district’s response to the accidental release will be influential in determining its compliance with privacy laws. Oettinger did not immediately alert the district to the disclosure due to previous privacy violations that remained unaddressed.

The Virginia Department of Education recently found the Fairfax district out of compliance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in response to one of Oettinger’s complaints regarding her son. The district has been urged to take more robust action to ensure sustainable compliance and has stated that it is training staff on their obligations under FERPA and the Freedom of Information Act.

Oettinger appealed the state’s decision after referencing The 74’s reporting on the accidental release of the records. The district maintains that the disclosure was a single instance of human error and argued that Oettinger’s in-person review of the documents was outside the typical electronic document production process.

Oettinger expressed confidence in Superintendent Michelle Reid’s commitment to improving security measures and believes that Reid understands she has no intention of misusing the information. Some special education experts have criticized the district for its careless mistake and emphasized the importance of careful document production. However, there are limited legal options for parents in such cases under FERPA.

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