Published Online: November 21, 2001
Published in Print: November 21, 2001, as State Journal

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Information Sharing

Forgetting about a law is usually not an acceptable excuse. But it appears to be the reason why a Georgia state agency and a school advocacy group may have violated a new state law when the agency provided home addresses for the state's 90,000 teachers.

The measure to protect teachers' records was passed by the legislature in March. It responded to worries from teacher groups about possible misuse of teachers' addresses and Social Security numbers in state records.

Effective with Gov. Roy Barnes' signature in April, the law says such records are not open to the public.

But teachers across the Peach State were recently mailed an unsolicited newsletter from the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, an advocacy group with strong business support.

Tom Upchurch, who heads the nonpartisan group, said he received the information on the teachers from the state Professional Standards Commission, which certifies teachers.

"It frankly went right over my head that ... this had anything to do with the law," Mr. Upchurch said of his June request.

The newsletter was designed to keep teachers up to date on school reform and responded to a need teachers themselves expressed, he added.

F.D. Toth, the executive secretary of the Professional Standards Commission, said it was his understanding that the law allowed him to release names and addresses only. Still, he said, "if I'm guilty, it's because ... it didn't occur to me at the time that the law had changed."

A spokesman for Georgia's largest teacher group said the law was broken, in the group's view.

"We have no objection to the partnership or the mailing, but they need to observe the law," said Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

"If there's a repeat, we'd consider [suing]," he said.

Mr. Upchurch and Mr. Toth both said they wouldn't use the addresses again, at least not without a clarification of the law.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 21, Issue 12, Page 13

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