GLEN ELLYN – A group advocating for the passage of a $24.2 million Glen Ellyn School District 41 referendum on the April 4 ballot sent pro-referendum materials to voters using email addresses obtained from the district.
On Jan. 11, 41 Forward for Kids committee co-chairwoman Jodi Herbold submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the district seeking email addresses for 17 specific names. The group supports the referendum, which would build an addition to Hadley Junior High School and make improvements to that school and the district's four elementary schools.
"There's a directory, it's called a general directory, and within that are literally thousands of names and numbers," District 41 Superintendent Paul Gordon said. "The decision was made to give them the entire list due to the number of redactions that would need to take place."
According to the district's policy, the district may disclose appropriately designated "general directory information" unless the district is told otherwise.
"In order to better protect the privacy of our families, parents are required, upon initial enrollment, to indicate their preferences (Yes or No) of how directory information is shared," the policy states.
General directory information may include students' names and addresses and parents' telephone numbers and email addresses, according to district policy. Gordon said the district would handle such a request differently in the future.
"What we would do in the future is redact the other names from it and just give them the 17 as opposed to giving them all [the names]," he said. "The rationale behind why we gave them [all the names] was sound in our legal understanding of the FOIA. A document was already created, and that is the general directory. So from there, that is what we ended up giving out as opposed to redacting the thousand or so names and numbers. We gave them the entire list. In the future, we would only give them the names of those that are requested."
Gordon said the district does not receive requests for the information in the general directory on a regular basis. He admitted the district could have done a better job handling the request.
"I recognize there is frustration out there," Gordon said. "And for that, I apologize. There was no malicious intent. There was nothing there, other than fulfilling a FOIA request."
In a March 9 Facebook post in the District 41 Parents Facebook group, the 41 Forward for Kids group states that it contacted some district voters and parents via email with pro-referendum information.
"Email addresses were obtained by FOIA requests to the DuPage County Election Commission and District 41," the post states. "Contact information from D41 excluded those parents who had opted-out of the directory during registration."
In the post, the group defends its actions.
"Our intent was to share positive factual information in the most efficient and cost effective means possible," the post states. "At no time did our volunteers feel they crossed an ethical line or that they were engaging in wrongdoing for the sake of the ends justifying the means."