Questions surround calls to Katy ISD parents

October 28, 2010 7:59:10 PM PDT
There's a lot of confusion and anger for some parents of Katy ISD students. They're wondering how a political action committee got access to their personal contact numbers to call them about a bond referendum. The committee was asking for support of a bond referendum to help Katy ISD build new schools and make other improvements.

The district is looking to get voter support for a $459 million bond referendum that would help Katy ISD build five new schools and make other improvements.

The phone calls that parents received on Wednesday were from a political action committee called 'Team Katy.' The call said in part, "Please remember, a vote for the bond is a vote for our kids' future. Thank you for your support."

The calls were made using a Katy ISD contact list, something Katy ISD parent Darcy Karhoff doesn't like.

"It really bothers me," she said. "It bothers me that somebody would release that information without someone contacting us. I don't remember signing a release for that."

The district says it has nothing to do with the phone calls, but as part of a public information request by school board member Joe Adams in April, it did release legally all parents' contact information by zip code.

"There's nothing identified the number, whether it be a primary number, a secondary number," said Katy ISD's Steve Sanderson. "There are no names associated with it. It was really just a raw data list of phone numbers."

But because of the calls and parents' concerns, the district is now looking at ways it can better protect secondary numbers from public information requests. And the district says it can't ask how information will be used when it provides it, parents like Darcy say it certainly seems like a conflict of interest.

"It shouldn't have been used for a political cause, especially when it's something connected to the district," she said.

For its part, the pact that made the calls are apologizing, saying it didn't know that some of the numbers were cell phones or office extensions and they've stopped the campaign.

"We didn't want to be irritating people. We didn't want to call anything but their primary numbers," said Robert Carpenter with Team Katy. "We certainly didn't want to be calling people back multiple times."

We did learn that Adams was one of four people who did provide a list of phone numbers to the PAC before they made those calls.

Late Thursday, Katy ISD sent us the following statement.

    On Wednesday evening, an automated call was placed to residents of Katy ISD regarding the 2010 bond election. This call was initiated and coordinated by the Team Katy PAC. Katy ISD was not involved in the coordination of the call, nor was any district resource used in the making of this call.

    We have heard from several parents who are concerned that the calls not only went to their home numbers, but also to cell phone and work numbers that were only given to the district as secondary contact numbers. We immediately began looking into the situation and discovered the following: On April 28, 2010, a Public Information Request was submitted asking for "phone numbers only of parents, staff and volunteers of Katy ISD who currently reside within the boundaries of Katy ISD." The requestor also asked that the numbers be sorted by zip code.

    The district responded to the request in accordance with the Public Information Act, and provided the requestor with parent phone numbers sorted by zip code; no other information, such as parent or student names, was given.

    Because the Public Information Act does not provide an exception for the district to withhold secondary numbers, such as cell phone or work numbers, and considers this information public, the district is obligated under law to release these numbers as well. In addition, the district, by law, is not permitted to ask a requestor why they are asking for the information, or what they intend to do with it.

    Although the release of cell phone and work numbers was done in accordance with the Public Information Act, we understand, and share the concerns of parents regarding their privacy and the issuance of phone numbers they consider private.

    We are currently exploring any steps we may be able to take to allow parents to keep their secondary phone numbers from being released as a result of a public information request.

    We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience or concern this may have caused. We take very seriously the management and safeguarding of student and parent information. We will continue to look for ways to keep information private that parents want kept private.


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