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Minn. court prevents student newspaper from access to video said to be of student pulling hijab off another's head

Lawsuits

By Mary Ann Magnell | Aug 22, 2018


ST. PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline) – The Minnesota Court of Appeals found that a district court “did not err” in its conclusion that a video captured of a November 2016 high school altercation was inaccessible to its student newspaper.

The decision was written by Judge Renee Worke, who found that the footage of the incident was private “educational data” under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA).  

The MGDPA, according to the opinion, “regulates the collection, creation, storage, maintenance, dissemination and access to government data in government entities,” the opinion states.

Although the Act “presumes” that this government data is public and is accessible by the public, the MGDPA has established that “educational data” is private and may not be disclosed unless an exception applies.

“Educational data,” according to the MGDPA and the ruling, is defined as “data on individuals maintained by a public educational agency or institution or by a person acting for the agency or institution which relates to a student.” 

The high school’s student newspaper, The Echo, sued the St. Louis Park Public School District and others in January 2017 after it had petitioned it for the video footage of the altercation and its request was denied. The district said that the video’s contents were “private student data.”  

Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, “contesting whether the requested data was ‘educational data’ under state and federal law,” the opinion stated.

The Hennepin County District Court found in favor of the district.  

In the appeals court, counsel for the newspaper maintained that the video was not “educational data” because the video was not maintained by the district. Counsel also argued that the term “relates to a student” was ambiguous.

The appeals court disagreed with both arguments. Further, it stated that although the word “relates” appeared to “cover a wide range a data […] this breadth does not necessarily imply ambiguity.”

The altercation, according to Minnesota Star Tribune, allegedly involved one student pulling a hijab from another student’s head. Although The Echo staff received documents that related to the incident, the documents were allegedly heavily redacted.

Minnesota Court of Appeals case number A17-1967

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