(Updated at 5 p.m.) A former Fairfax County Public Schools bus driver reportedly slapped a student at Fort Belvoir, according to a Fairfax County court affidavit filed on May 4.
An Army investigation for Fort Belvoir stated that there was probable cause to support allegations that the driver assaulted the student on March 16. According to a special agent, photos from a parent showed apparent bruising on the boy’s cheek and under his left eye.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division declined to provide further details, including whether any charges have been filed. However, it said its investigation was still “active,” as of Tuesday (May 17).
FCPS refused to answer questions about the incident or its policies. It confirmed that the driver is no longer an employee but didn’t provide any further context on why.
The driver provided a statement to FCPS about the incident, but school officials have refused to release it in response to public records requests.
The district initially claimed the statement — identified as a student behavior incident report — was exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which has exclusions for personnel records with personally identifiable information and scholastic records involving identifiable individuals.
FFXnow requested that the record be released in redacted form without the driver’s name, stating that Virginia’s law doesn’t allow an agency to withhold a record in its entirety if there’s an exemption.
An FCPS public records officer then said that the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act also prohibits releasing a record linked to “a specific student that would allow a reasonable person in the school community, who does not have personal knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to identify the student with reasonable certainty.”
Megan Rhyne, director of the nonprofit Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said by email that she believes in general that school districts and higher education systems “overuse the FERPA/scholastic records exemption,” stretching beyond the law’s purpose.
“The way so many interpret it is that ANYthing that has to do with a student or shows their image is off-limits,” she wrote. “We know this isn’t true because if it were, there wouldn’t be graduation programs (complete with dean’s list, cum laude distinction, etc., which touch on their academic record), featured students on district websites, Facebook posts of science fair winners, etc.”
She said the mere mention of a student does not turn an entire record into an exempt one.
“I also see a lot of overuse of the personnel exemption to withhold information on anything an employee does,” she wrote. “Again, this goes too far. The employee may have a zone of privacy around her, but that doesn’t extend to her public-facing work.”
Rhyne stressed that public agencies aren’t required to use the exemptions, and some choose an overly broad interpretation to justify keeping valuable information away from the public, even when the law’s policy statement says to interpret exemptions narrowly.
Virginia law allows a court to resolve disputes about whether a record should be released, but the process can unnecessarily waste public resources and newsroom budgets. Some states have an appeal mechanism for a state agency to handle issues, such as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Rhyne said those remain rare, but Virginia would benefit from an administrative appeal system.
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