I posted Gay Adelmann’s account of her efforts to see the financial records of the Kentucky PTA. Both sides ended up in court.


I heard from S. Coy Travis, whose law firm represents the Kentucky PTA. He wanted readers to know both sides. I invited him to write a commentary, and he did.

He wrote:

Isn’t Kentucky PTA subject to the Open Records Act? Why does Kentucky PTA think that it doesn’t need to follow a lawful Open Records Act request.

Kentucky PTA is a private nonprofit corporation. While PTAs do work closely with schools, they are not simply an extension of the public school or generally under the control of the school district. As best said by Betsy Landers, past National PTA President, “PTA doesn’t work for the school – it works on behalf of children and families.”

The Kentucky Open Records Act, KRS 61.880 et seq., only applies to public agencies. School districts are clearly public agencies subject to the Open Records Act.

Under the Kentucky Open Records Act, public records of public agencies are subject to inspection unless they fall within a particular exclusion. One of the exclusions are records (a) that are required by a public agency to be disclosed to it by a private entity, (b) that are generally recognized as confidential or proprietary, and (c) that would permit an unfair competitive advantage against the private entity disclosing the records.

Breaking down that analysis:

(a) Kentucky PTA is required by the Accounting Procedures for School Activity Funds a/k/a Redbook to provide the requested records to the school. The school is a public agency under the Kentucky Open Records Act. There is little dispute that this portion of the analysis is satisfied.

(b) Financial records of private entities are generally considered to be confidential or proprietary. There is case law in Kentucky that acknowledges that a private entity’s financial records – including budgets and annual financial reports – are typically considered confidential and proprietary. While there may be great interest in these records, that does not change the fact that they are, generally speaking, considered to be confidential or proprietary. This point is explored more below.

(c) Entities that might be competitors or adverse to Kentucky PTA could use these records to gain an advantage on Kentucky PTA. As one example illustrating this point:

Suppose that a group wishes to reduce the influence of Kentucky PTA by forming unaffiliated parent teacher organizations (PTOs), which focus on the local school only and do not have the advocacy aims of PTA. The PTO organizers, if given access to Kentucky PTA financial records, could use those records to identify PTA chapters with fewer members and/or financial resources. The PTO organizers could then target those schools for development of a PTO instead of a PTA. As another example: Suppose that a charter school advocate wishes to build support for charter schools by pointing out schools with “weak” PTAs in an effort to show that public schools have not fostered parental involvement. This would clearly be detrimental to PTA.

So, while Kentucky PTA respects the goals of the Open Records Act, Kentucky PTA does not agree that the Open Records Act legally applies to Kentucky PTA or that the records that Kentucky PTA (through its local units) is required to disclose by law should be subject to an Open Records Request. Kentucky PTA believes that the current request is not supported by a correct interpretation of the law. For Kentucky PTA, this case is entirely about the “how” and not the “what” that is at issue.

How can Kentucky PTA claim its financial records are confidential when it discloses that information to members at local meetings?

First, it’s important to again remember that Kentucky PTA is a private entity, not a government agency or program. Second, Kentucky PTA has roughly 105,000 members, and we encourage our members to engage with local units. And yes, our local units regularly share financial information with members during PTA meetings. But, to put the Kentucky PTA membership number in context, there are approximately 4,468,000 people in Kentucky. This means that, out of Kentucky’s entire population, only 2.3% of the people in our state are Kentucky PTA members. While we gladly share information with our members, Kentucky PTA does not regularly share detailed financial information with the general public except as otherwise required by law. The essence of privacy rights is that private entities get to control how their information gets disseminated to the general public. In other words, the private entity gets to decide what to share, what not to share, how to share it, etc. Kentucky PTA takes its role in the public education sphere seriously and carefully balances its privacy interests against the goal of being transparent and ensuring public confidence in PTA.

Put into a different context: Just because a person might choose to share information with the person’s friends and family does not mean that the person does not still consider the information confidential to anyone outside those groups.

Why did Kentucky PTA sue an activist?

Technically, the named defendant in the lawsuit is the public agency – the school district. This is because the public agency currently possesses the records, and as such, is the defendant in an Open Records Act lawsuit. Ms. Adelmann was named not as a defendant but as a “real party in interest.” This means that Kentucky PTA acknowledged, from the outset, that Ms. Adelmann has a legal interest in the legal question at issue in the case and deserves a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the issue. Contrary to the narrative that Kentucky PTA has tried to keep Ms. Adelmann in the dark or hide anything, Kentucky PTA wanted to ensure that she had the chance to say whatever she wanted to say and be a part of this process.

Why doesn’t Kentucky PTA want to see the activist get these records? Why didn’t Kentucky PTA just give the records to the activist?

Actually, Kentucky PTA has already agreed to provide the requested records to Ms. Adelmann. Kentucky PTA is currently in the process of gathering those records and digitizing them so that they can be produced to Ms. Adelmann. However, Kentucky PTA is almost exclusively made up of volunteers, so it will take time to get these records. Additionally, many of the requested records, though produced to the schools, are not produced to the state PTA office, so we will have to collect those from our local units.

We have also heard that Ms. Adelmann feels that she did not get a sufficient response from Kentucky PTA when she requested these records from local units. Kentucky PTA is not aware of any request made at the state level or the specifics of who in local PTAs Ms. Adelmann asked for these records. To date, she has not provided Kentucky PTA with any corroboration of the efforts she made to get these records directly from PTA at any level before resorting to her request under the Open Records Act, and she has repeatedly acknowledged that she did so more for her own convenience. Regardless, Kentucky PTA is currently working on developing written protocols to ensure that there are more clearly-established and understood procedures for member document requests in the future.

Is this a good use of Kentucky PTA’s resources?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Likely, those who have children or have worked with children have stressed this lesson many times. Kentucky PTA fully agrees with this assessment, and that is the driving belief behind this legal action. Again, Kentucky PTA is not trying to hide anything – it fully intends to produce the requested records to Ms. Adelmann. However, we do believe that the question of “how” those records are produced has been completely overlooked. Using an analogy that education activists in Kentucky can appreciate, Kentucky PTA believes that trying to get the records of a private entity through an Open Records Act request is a lot like trying to pass a pension reform bill by calling it a wastewater bill – no matter what anyone may believe about the merits, the process is flawed.

Additionally, much of the legal work performed for Kentucky PTA, including most of the time spent on this litigation, has been done on a pro bono basis. As a supporter of public education and its allies, Kentucky PTA’s general counsel has done his absolute best to keep the costs on this case as low as possible, including substantially reducing the hourly rate when work has been billed.

Why didn’t Kentucky PTA take action in the past in response to other Open Records Act requests?

There was a previous Open Records Act request made by a local newspaper a couple of years ago for PTA records. However, there is no evidence that Kentucky PTA knew about the request prior to the school district releasing the records. In an Open Records Act case, once the records have been released, there is really no remedy. In the current instance, Kentucky PTA was made aware of the request through local PTAs contacting the state office before the records were produced, giving Kentucky PTA the opportunity to intervene for the above-stated reasons.

If Kentucky PTA is giving the activist the records, why is it planning to appeal the trial court decision?

The decision by the trial court in this case has no precedential value for any future requests. Until there is a published appellate opinion, there is no controlling law on this question. Kentucky PTA believes that it and other entities required to produce records to the government by law would benefit from an analysis of this portion of the Open Records Act.