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Bechtel sues Dallemand, claiming student privacy rights ‘invaded’

Bibb County school board member Gary Bechtel filed a lawsuit Monday against school Superintendent Romain Dallemand, contending that Dallemand violated student privacy rights by improperly releasing information about the education records of Bechtel’s son.

Bechtel, his wife, Laura, and his son Sam, filed the lawsuit in Bibb County Superior Court against Dallemand personally, not in his professional capacity.

The Bechtels contend that Dallemand released their son’s “private and confidential education records to the public,” without their consent, by having the records published on the school district’s website Friday. They also maintain that Dallemand had released their son’s records in an unauthorized manner before their appearance on the website.

Specifically, the Bechtels take issue with the release of an e-mail that Gary Bechtel wrote in December 2011, asking that his son be moved to another math class at Howard High School.

The suit contends that Dallemand released the education records “with malice toward” and “with the intent to injure” the Bechtels.

Dallemand was unavailable for comment Monday, school system spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley said. Jerry Lumley, who is representing the Bechtels, said the release of the information violates the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects students’ education records.

“It applies to any education records,” Lumley said. “A communication from a parent to a school administrator about the progress of a son is covered by FERPA. It’s considered an education record.”

Last week, the school system released the results of an audit of board members’ e-mails by the accounting firm McGladrey. The audit report cited about two dozen instances of possible violations by Bechtel of school board and state policies about issues including involvement in a bid process for school buses and seeking favors for his children.

Bechtel, who is running for a Bibb County Commission seat, has called the audit a “witch hunt” against him and one other board member and said the e-mails were taken out of context.

“Even though I’m a board member, my son deserves the same rights as other students to (not) have (his) academic progress revealed on the Bibb County Board of Education website, even in an audit of (his) father’s e-mails,” Gary Bechtel said. “I would hope the system would have more care for the information of students.”

The school system posted a summary of the audit findings to its website before Thursday’s school board meeting. The e-mails cited in the summary were then posted online Friday and were still on the school system’s website Monday afternoon.

The Bechtels have asked a judge to issue an injunction requiring Dallemand to stop publishing their son’s information and to prohibit Dallemand from releasing additional information.

They also request damages to compensate the family for “the injuries they have sustained to their peace, happiness and feelings” and for Dallemand to pay court costs.

A hearing is scheduled on the matter Aug. 1 to seek a temporary restraining order, forcing the school system to take the information off its website, Lumley said.

“Hopefully, the school system will do the right thing and remove it without a court order,” he said.

Bechtel said he is confident a judge will order the e-mail’s removal.

“I believe it’s willful, and this action will hopefully determine that,” he said.

Telegraph staff writer Amy Leigh Womack contributed to this report. To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.