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Judge rebukes Buffalo Schools as he agrees to hear arguments on releasing records

The federal magistrate behind the controversial order to release names and admissions scores of hundreds of students from City Honors and Hutchinson Central Technical School is now raising privacy concerns, as well.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy also rebuked Buffalo Public Schools for not bringing up this issue before his decision last week.

The school district has asked McCarthy to reconsider his order to release the student data, sought as evidence by a former teacher for her lawsuit against the Elmwood Franklin School, a private school in North Buffalo.

The judge agreed to hear oral arguments on the matter Aug. 27 ,but in doing so, he released a strongly worded response admonishing the city school district for its handling of the case.

“In seeking reconsideration, the district raises arguments which it did not raise before – in fact, it did not even bother to respond to plaintiff’s cross-motion, much less object to plantiff’s discovery demands, apparently confident that it would eventually be dismissed from this action,” McCarthy wrote.

The plantiff, Shellonnee B. Chinn, a former kindergarten teacher at Elmwood Franklin, has filed a discrimination suit against Elmwood Franklin and, to prove she was an effective educator, wants the admissions scores of her former students accepted into two of the city’s top high schools. She also wants the names and scores of everyone else accepted to City Honors and Hutch Tech since 2013 as a comparison.

McCarthy last week ordered the district to “fully comply” with her request, but the district contends the information is irrelevant to Chinn’s case and is protected under the federal Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act.

Judge's order over City Honors, Hutch-Tech records raises privacy questions

While granting oral arguments, McCarthy went out of his way several times in his four-page response to point out that the district had the obligation to respond to Chinn’s demands for evidence – and raise these arguments – but instead ignored them.

In fact, the judge hinted at sanctioning the district — monetarily or otherwise — for disregarding that obligation.

McCarthy also addressed the district’s argument that there is a need to correct “clear legal error” in the ruling. He pointed out that a judge couldn’t have committed an error for failing to rule on facts never argued to him.

“There is no ‘clear error’ in my prior decision and order granting that motion,” McCarthy wrote.

McCarthy, however, raised concerns that these are highly personal and sensitive records that could potentially be disseminated. He cited case law where a court may reconsider a ruling, “where privacy interests of third parties would be harmed.”

Chinn, who is representing herself in the case, has until Aug. 10 to submit in writing why the district’s request for reconsideration should be denied.

Buffalo school district tries to block release of student names and admissions scores

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