Florida

A prosecutor asks for a list of graduating students ... and then trouble begins

The Monroe County School District acted within the law and its own policy when it sent a list of 533 graduating seniors’ names and home addresses to State Attorney Catherine Vogel, who is seeking re-election to a second four-year term this year, upon request this month, the superintendent said Wednesday.

“Under our current policy, this information is available to the public but it does require us to redact,” said Superintendent Mark Porter. “People can ask us for anything. The legal analysis takes place on our side.”

Porter said the district’s attorney, Theron Simmons, vetted the response before district employees complied with Vogel’s request.

Cathy Langston, Vogel’s assistant, first asked for the student information in a phone call to Sally Abrams, the district’s legal secretary and administrative aide to Porter and the School Board, and followed up in e-mails on May 24 and a chain of several e-mails from June 2 through 8, according to the e-mail string provided Wednesday by the district and Vogel’s office.

The students’ names and addresses, from all but one public school, were sent June 7 and 8. Key West Collegiate Academy, a charter school that had 19 graduates this year, told the district it wouldn’t provide any student information.

“The first thing we thought was, jeez, are we being investigated?” said Todd German, chairman of the school’s board. “What do we do? We sent it to our lawyers.”

German said their attorneys advised them not to do it unless they got permission from every student’s parents’ first.

Porter said the district’s response wasn’t influenced by Vogel’s name and title.

“I don’t think our response was dictated by who asked,” Porter said. “The analysis I received from our legal counsel does raise some questions about how we classify and allow access to this information.”

After the request was reviewed by the schools’ attorneys, the IT department was asked to compile the list.

Florida law forbids an agency from releasing the home addresses of law enforcement officers, so children of police and deputies were not included in the spreadsheet sent to Vogel, according to Porter.

But 533 student names and home addresses, the total from Key West, Marathon and Coral Shores high schools, were sent to Vogel via Langston at her office in Key West.

The three spreadsheets, obtained Wednesday by the Keynoter, lists seniors first by school and then alphabetically by last name, followed by their street address, city and zip code.

Vogel said she only wanted to wish the graduates congratulations and said she would have paid for it personally. In light of the criticism, Vogel said she has scrapped the idea and disposed of the list. She had not asked for one previous years.

But the request for the names and addresses came from Vogel’s office using the keyssao.org e-mail domain. E-mails from Langston to a School District don’t cite any laws or use the phrase public-records request. They are informal.

“Being state attorney, she should know better,” said Dennis Ward, the former state attorney who Vogel defeated in the 2012 Democratic primary and is now running again as a Republican.

Ward said the School District’s policy raises questions of safety, using the hypothetical example of a sexual predator roaming school ball games and then asking for a list of students by name, school and home address.

“I don’t think they should have given out the kids’ addresses, but what concerns me more is Vogel using her office to acquire that information so she could use it for her campaign,” said Ward, who added when asked that he did not bring the student address release to the press.

“I don’t know who started the whole thing,” Ward said.

Shad Neiss, a Key West Libertarian who has also qualified to run for state attorney, said he hasn’t any comment on the matter and wants to focus on juvenile justice reform and other issues.

The three SAO candidates on Wednesday were each unopposed in the primary as qualifying ends at 12 p.m. Friday.

They are expected to appear Friday at a candidates’ forum sponsored by Hometown PAC that starts at 5 p.m. at The Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen on Twitter

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