A Little League baseball team. Volunteering for the town’s youth council. Writing letters to the governor. Going to school.
Our youngest citizens can interact with North Carolina state and local government in these ways–and in many more! Of course, each of these interactions can and will result in the creation of public records… records that are open to public inspection unless there’s a specific state or federal statute stating otherwise. While we would tend to think that all public records concerning juveniles must be confidential, there is no single statute stating this. Rather, the General Statutes of North Carolina contain a number of statutes that make certain public records concerning juveniles confidential. These statutes cover the most common interactions a juvenile might have with North Carolina government… but not all of them.
Let’s take a closer look at these statutes.
G.S. 115C-402 – Student Records
G.S. 115C-402 discusses the requirements for a student’s official, cumulative record, which is maintained by the local education agency in which the student is enrolled. Subsection (e) states, “The official record shall not be subject to inspection and examination as authorized by G.S. 132-6.” Other North Carolina statutes that exempt student information from public access are G.S. 115C-174.13 (test scores for individual students) and G.S. 130A-441 (health assessment reports for children entering kindergarten); and the federal education privacy law, FERPA, also exempts most student information.
G.S. 108A-80 and G.S. 108A-73 – Social Services Records
Juveniles can often be clients in Social Service case files. These files are generally exempted from public inspection. Juvenile records also receive additional confidentiality measures in cases of child abuse, neglect, or dependency (G.S. 7B-302, G.S. 7B-2901, and G.S. 7B-1413), or in the case of a child fatality or near fatality that results in criminal charges (G.S. 7B-2902).
G.S. 7B-3000 – Juvenile Justice Records
Juvenile court case files are also closed to public inspection. Two other common interactions juveniles have with law enforcement are closed as well: photographs and fingerprints (G.S. 7B-2102) and information about juveniles required to register as sex offenders (G.S. 14-208.29).
G.S. 132-1.12 – Parks & Recreation Records
One final common interaction that juveniles have with North Carolina government is interacting with local parks or recreation programs. Any information used to identify a child participating in such a program is not automatically open to public inspection under this statute, giving local government employees the discretion to deny people access to these records.
So, what about other records created when a juvenile interacts with the government?
First, keep in mind that (like the Social Services files), the records may be generally confidential, regardless of whether the individual involved is a juvenile or not. Examples of this include health records and criminal investigations.
If the record would otherwise be open to the public, though, the fact that the record is about a juvenile does not make it automatically confidential. This means that records about juveniles volunteering for a government office (volunteer records are most likely not covered under personnel statutes), or those letters that the fifth grade class wrote to the governor, are open for public inspection.