The Legal Brief: Court of Appeals Ruling PIA Exception Regarding Transcripts of Community College Professors

The Legal BriefAppellate Court Affirms That Public Information Act Exception as to Release of Educator Transcripts Applies Only to Educators at Elementary and Secondary Schools, Not to Junior College Professors 

Del Mar College, a junior college in Corpus Christi, Texas, sought trial court review of an Attorney General opinion regarding the release of personnel file materials for certain college employees in response to a request under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA).  When the trial court ordered that the copies of college transcripts that had been requested for two of the college’s professors be released, the College appealed the ruling to the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District in Austin. In July of this year, in Del Mar College District v. Paxton, the Austin Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision that the transcripts must be disclosed, holding that the PIA “professional public school employee” exception relied upon by the College in its pleadings applies only to educators in elementary and secondary schools, not to educators employed by a junior college.  

Section 552.102(b) of the Government Code, the provision in dispute in the case, provides as follows:

“Information is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if it is a transcript from an institution of higher education maintained in the personnel file of a professional public school employee, except that this section does not exempt from disclosure the degree obtained or the curriculum on a transcript in the personnel file of the employee.”

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals relied heavily on the longstanding opinion of the Office of the Attorney General regarding the PIA provision in question, Section 552.102(b):

“We have interpreted ‘professional public school employee,’ to refer to employees of public schools providing ‘public education’ under title 2 of the Education Code, not colleges and universities providing ‘higher education’ under title 3 of the Education Code. Tex. Att’y Gen. OR2000-2621.  The Attorney General has also explained repeatedly that the exemption in Section 552.102(b) is limited to “professional educators” employed by the public schools, rather than other types of employees, such as a school district’s construction manager, see Tex. Att’y Gen. OR2017-12010, police chief, see Tex. Att’y Gen. OR2014-12533, or in-house counsel, see Tex. Att’y Gen. OR2014-02647.”

The Court of Appeals also underscored that, in reaching the above conclusion, the Attorney General took into account the legislative history of the exception, “noting that the bill’s author had explained it was intended to stop inquiries by people trying to undermine a school district’s hiring decisions and determination of a teacher’s qualifications.”

To read the Court of Appeals opinion: CLICK HERE

Written By: John J. Janssen