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Investigation finds no wrongdoing in BHAS student information shared with Whirlpool employee

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- A Whirlpool employee was given access to Benton Harbor student information and the district officials who authorized it didn't do anything wrong, according to an investigation conducted by an outside attorney hired by Whirlpool. 

Whirlpool Vice President of Communications Jeff Noel said the employee has been volunteering with Benton Harbor Area Schools through a volunteer program Whirlpool has. Noel said the program allows employees to volunteer during work hours. 

According to Noel, Benton Harbor Area Schools administrators gave the female volunteer contact information for students who were leaving the district and asked the volunteer to reach out to the students' families to find out why they decided to pull their child out.

“She was asked by the school administration to make some contact with parents of children who had not re-enrolled their children into the schools,” Noel said. “And under the privacy act, which we hired an outside attorney to look into and to validate the information, the act actually provides for volunteers working directly with the administration to be given contact information for students, which would be available in a directory.”

At a board meeting on Tuesday, Benton Harbor school trustees passed a resolution asking Interim Superintendent Patricia Robinson to find out who made the decision to release the information to the volunteer, why that decision was made, and what type of information was released. Robinson said it will take her two weeks to compile the information.

Trustees expressed concern that providing the information to the volunteer might have violated the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Noel said Whirlpool never had any access to the information, which he described as students' names and phone numbers. 

“Whirlpool received no information. We don’t want information. We’ve never asked for information from the school system. And secondly, the information was a contact list,” Noel said.

BHAS asked Whirlpool to conduct its own investigation into the information. Noel said that an outside attorney found there was no wrongdoing and all the appropriate guidelines were followed.

When asked about this, Noel said, “I think the best message I can give to all the parents is, we’re glad you’re concerned. We’re concerned. And both of us have looked into this matter through independent means and by legal association. And everyone has concluded the same thing: Nothing was done wrong; no misinformation was shared; and everyone was doing the right thing to try to help better the schools.”

ABC57 has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Benton Harbor Area Schools for all information relevant to this story.

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