Florida court rules teacher data is a public record

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A Florida appeals court sided with a newspaper on Thursday and said that data used to prepare teacher evaluations is a public record.

It's not clear, however, whether or not the Florida Department of Education would fight the ruling or make the information public.

Teacher evaluations do not become public records for two years, but The Florida Times-Union in October 2012 asked for information the state planned to use as part of a new evaluation system for teachers.

The newspaper sued when the request for the data based on test scores was turned down. A circuit court judge sided with the state, but the appeals court pointed out that Florida's constitution has a broad policy of disclosure.

The ruling states that teachers will be rated on a "large spectrum of criteria" beyond just the data and that "it is not by itself, the employee evaluation."

"Had the Legislature wanted any matter material to a teacher evaluation to be exempt from disclosure, the Legislature would have exempted personnel files as a whole," states the ruling from the three judge panel.

Joe Follick, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the state was analyzing the ruling and had not made a decision whether or not to challenge it.

Jennifer Mansfield, an attorney representing the newspaper, told the Times-Union that the ruling was a win for transparency and for parents who want to review the data.

"More importantly it's going to provide the voting public the ability to evaluate the legislature's process for teacher review that it has set up," Mansfield said.

Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, said he was disappointed with the court ruling. The teacher's union had intervened in the lawsuit after it was filed.

Ford called the teacher data collected by the state "deeply flawed."

"The evaluation data on teachers that is about to be made public is meaningless, which is why we joined in to enforce the public records exemption and prevent it from being published," Ford said in a statement. "The numbers to be released are subject to misinterpretation. They have not been put in their proper context."

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