KBS References Desk: Public Information Election

Q:    We have received a request under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) for the home     address, home telephone, personal and district email, campus assignment, and employee ID or social security number for all district employees. We have reviewed files and cannot find election forms for several employees with their preference on release of private information. Without this election on file, can we still withhold our employees’ home address, telephone, and personal email? What about the remainder of the information?

A:    You can withhold an employee’s personal email address (with or without an election form) unless the employee has specifically elected to disclose the information; however, district emails are public. Home addresses and telephone numbers are considered public information unless specifically excepted from disclosure in writing. Therefore, without an election form on file, the employee’s home address and phone numbers will be public information. Social security numbers are private by law, whereas campus assignments are clearly public information.

First, a review of each employee’s personnel file should be performed to determine if an election form is available regarding the person’s preferences on disclosure of the information requested. The TPIA requires that all employees make an election in writing within 14 days of hire or 14 days of termination/resignation as to whether to allow public access to information in the custody of the governmental body “that relates to the person’s home address, home telephone number, emergency contact information or social security number, or that reveals whether the person has family members.” Tex. Gov’t Code §552.024. You’ll find this provision in Board Policy GBA (LEGAL). If the employee’s file does not contain such an election form, the following guidelines are instructive regarding the disclosure of each type of information.

  • Home Addresses& Telephone Numbers – The Texas Attorney General has stated that without a specific election in writing by the employee dated before receipt of the TPIA request, home addresses and telephone numbers must be disclosed to the public. If the employee’s form is unavailable for review, the law presumes that the information is public.
  • Email Addresses – An employee’s district email address is considered public information under Tex. Gov’t Code 552.137 because teachers are not considered “members of the public.” However, in regards to personal email addresses, the Attorney General has clarified that, unless an employee has “affirmatively consented to their release,” personal email addresses may be withheld under the law. Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. R. 2005-03084.
  • Social Security Number/Employee ID – Social security numbers are confidential by law without the need to seek clarification from the Attorney General. Tex. Gov’t Code 552.024(a-1). Your District can (and should) redact social security numbers from any documents produced in response to the request. Employee ID numbers are only provided the same protection when the ID is used to access secure information, such as bank accounts or district files and servers. As such, employee ID numbers should not be redacted without confirmation from the Attorney General that the ID is an access number utilized to obtain items of value.  
  • Campus Assignment – An employee’s particular campus and/or classroom assignment is public information, as it is information that is routinely and regularly shared with the public.

If you find that one or more of your employee files contain an election that their personal information is to remain confidential, you are free to withhold or redact without the need for an Attorney General determination. Tex. Gov’t Code §552.024(c)(2). While disclosure is required for all others in response to this particular request, you are free to re-issue election forms now for application to future request That is, the AG has said that while the 14 day timeline is ideal, so long as the election is on file prior to receipt of the request, it is a valid election. Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. R. 2001-2416. Keep in mind, however, if you receive an open records request requiring an Attorney General determination, we recommend you contact your school lawyer due to the short timelines and strict procedural formalities. Your lawyer can also help with cost estimates for labor and/or the manipulation of data if the requestor has sought the information in a particular format not readily available.

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