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Guest opinion: Orem City’s breach of privacy disturbing

By Cissy Rasmussen - Special to the Daily Herald | Jun 21, 2022

Courtesy photo

Cissy Rasmussen

I’ve lived in Orem for almost 20 years with my husband and six children. My six kids have attended or currently attend Orem’s public schools. I’m very involved in our schools and have been an active, vocal advocate for them. Recently, my vocal opposition for creating an Orem-only school district resulted in serious consequences and a breach of my privacy.

In May, Orem City submitted a GRAMA request for all emails between anyone in Alpine School District and me, a private citizen, from Jan. 1 to present, ostensibly as part of the research for the Orem School District feasibility study. That request was fulfilled by ASD. On Thursday, June 9, as part of a transparency document about the study, Orem City published my emails — more than 1,000 pages — on their website and then posted a social media post directing people to it.

Most of my emails related to PTA and School Community Council, where I volunteer. But the file also included emails with teachers, substitute teaching plans, questions to district employees on various topics and emails to school board members. Some of the emails weren’t even written by me but simply included my email address as part of a group email. None of the email addresses or personal information were redacted — including volunteer, teacher and student names, as well as links to Google docs for various purposes. The email addresses of hundreds of people were exposed.

After public outcry, the city removed the links to my emails on Friday morning, which I do appreciate. However, the links were live for at least 17 hours and were able to be downloaded. The damage is done.

I am deeply dismayed and disturbed by this egregious breach of privacy and trust. There cannot be any reason for such unethical actions. My emails have nothing to do with the feasibility study. In an interview with KSLTV last Monday night, Mayor David Young said, “Those people were in the community putting a lot of information out on social media and in meetings, and making a number of claims. … And so, my understanding is that we just wanted a backup of where they were getting that information.”

That’s interesting in a gossipy, office politics sort of way, but still not within the scope of the study. The purpose of the feasibility study is to collect and examine data and information about the school district and how it relates to Orem, not to investigate opposing views of private citizens. Additionally, the other two private citizens whose emails were also targeted by Orem City had not said anything publicly; and the people who have been vocal in favor of the study were not targeted at all. The city’s request for my emails is nothing less than snooping.

Maybe they think it’s all fair game because ASD is a government entity. Maybe they think they have a right to these emails because of “transparency.” Maybe they think I should not be concerned if I have “nothing to hide.” All of those are wrong beliefs. I am a private citizen, a volunteer in PTA and School Community Councils, unelected to any office outside a school. Like every parent, I have reasonable expectations that when I email a teacher or a PTA group, it’s not going to be shared without my permission with the city and internet for no discernible purpose.

This is not all ASD’s fault, as implied by the mayor in his interview on KSL last night when he said, “We just put out what we received. Once we were notified there was confidential information, that’s where we took down.” Yes, ASD needs to better define policy about GRAMA requests that relate to parent and student emails. However, it was Orem City that inappropriately requested such emails for no just cause. It was Orem City that published them — and not by mistake, either. On their main transparency page, one of my emails is quoted in its entirety and with my name. That means someone had to comb through my 1,000-page file to find that email, and that person undoubtedly noticed that nothing was redacted.

I’ve done nothing but share information about an important local school issue — incidentally, from the very public data Orem City GRAMA-requested on behalf of Discovery Education Consultants. I have spoken up for my viewpoint, invited others to learn and communicated with Mayor Young and Orem City Council with an intent to be an involved, informed citizen of my city. As I’ve done for years, I have advocated for my schools. None of these activities warrants such self-serving, vindictive, underhanded actions. Though GRAMA requests are legal, this kind and this public posting is unethical and mean-spirited.

Mayor Young stated in his interview that ASD will redact more information from these records and return them to the city. My question is, will they publish them online again? If the district removes a large portion of sensitive emails, will Orem City then claim that they are hiding information? (Because after all, the city does still have the original files for comparison.) And again, what is the purpose of targeting my emails and posting them publicly?

Those who took the time to read all 1,024 pages of my emails will see that I serve our Orem schools tirelessly in many capacities. I ask a lot of questions — the same questions every single Orem resident has a right to ask of their principals, school board members and district employees. But every resident should now wonder if their emails will also be requested if they ask too many questions or are a little too vocal about their opinions.

Cissy Rasmussen is a resident of Orem.

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