Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Folders with student names and other information at Centennial Middle School in Provo are found in a recycling bin Wednesday.
PROVO School district officials on Wednesday retrieved some 800 folders containing personal student information that were mistakenly dumped in a recycling bin at a Provo school.
A concerned parent contacted the Deseret Morning News to say that Wednesday, as she was dropping old newspapers in a bin at Centennial Middle School at 305 E. 2320 North in Provo, she saw hundreds of nearly new manila folders.
Inside the folders, with tabs that listed children's names and addresses, were notes from parents, doctors and orthodontists, some asking for an excused absence for the student.
"Please excuse (name) for being late today. He was not feeling well this morning," read one hand-written note from a parent. The Deseret Morning News obtained the note by retrieving it from the bin on Wednesday.
School officials are unsure how long the papers had been in the bin.
"What should have happened, is they should have either taken the names off, or destroyed the folders," said Greg Hudnall, director of student services for Provo School District. "Really, what they should have done is re-use them. For whatever reason they didn't."
Once officials learned about the dumped folders, the bin was cleared out and the folders will either be reused or disposed of properly, Hudnall said. The documents had been removed by Wednesday afternoon.
"Who knows who does Dumpster diving," Hudnall said. "We just need to be safe, just need to be responsible. We just need to take the extra step to make sure we're being careful."
Schools do not recycle sensitive materials such as financial records, school performance records, medical reports or behavioral records. Instead, those files are shredded, said Mitch Swenson, principal of Centennial Middle School.
Materials that do not contain sensitive information are thrown into recycling bins in classrooms and then migrate to the large bin in the parking lot.
"It's a good reminder for us to encourage everyone to shred what should be shredded," Swenson said.
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Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), addresses, phone numbers and names of students fall into the category of "directory information" and generally may be released by a school district unless the parents have objected in writing, said Jim Bradshaw, in the U.S. Department of Education.
However, that doesn't release schools from the responsibility to dispose of records safely to protect student education records.
"That includes disposing of documents in a way that guards against unauthorized disclosure, such as shredding or burning," Bradshaw said. "Banks don't throw records in Dumpsters and schools are also obligated to protect the confidentiality of student records."