A recent story on WRAL.com in Raleigh, N.C., (where I work as a Web news editor), really hit a nerve with our readers and got me thinking about how the public views the public records law. The story is called “Wake schools posts residents’ information online.”
On the surface, the story is about the school system’s decision to post on its Web site the names and contact info of more than 800 residents who had submitted public comments about the controversial year-round schools debate. People, especially parents, were angry that their information was posted, along with their public comments, for all to see.
One parent whom WRAL interviewed said she was worried that a pedophile could see her information on the Web site and come to her house. A teacher said she was surprised to find her information online and felt “vulnerable.”
School officials responded and said the Web site warned people that any comments they submitted would be a matter of public record. School leaders also said they decided to publish people’s comments, names and info so it didn’t appear that the school system was trying to hide anything.
In the end, this story is about the public records law and how it is used. Sadly, I think this was a crash course for many parents, teachers and other residents who probably didn’t have a lot of experience with the law before this. Not everyone is a public records geek like me.
In the comments section under our story, the response was mixed. Some people threatened to call the school system and demand that their information be taken down immediately. Others said they understand that the info is public record, but they questioned why the school system felt the need to publish it. “‘Public’ record does not have to mean ‘published’ record,” one person wrote. Another viewer cited the public records law and said: “The bottom line is that we all have the right to speak our minds, but participation in public discourse brings with it exposure to the public.”
What do you think? If you were leading this school system, would you have published all, some or none of the information?