Head of the Class

In early 1998, an elite school in Thailand picked on the wrong mother. Sumalee Limpaovart refused to believe that her brilliant daughter, Nattanich, had failed the entrance exam for an elementary school at the state-run Kasetsart University, so she filed a request at the school for copies of the test sheets and grades for everyone ...

In early 1998, an elite school in Thailand picked on the wrong mother. Sumalee Limpaovart refused to believe that her brilliant daughter, Nattanich, had failed the entrance exam for an elementary school at the state-run Kasetsart University, so she filed a request at the school for copies of the test sheets and grades for everyone who took the exam.

When the school refused, Sumalee turned to the new Thai access law administered by the Office of the Official Information Commission (OIC). At first, the OIC declared that Sumalee could see only her own daughter's answer sheet. However, an appeals tribunal ruled that the tests and scores were government data, not personal information, and could be released. The school refused to comply, and the parents of the other children even sued Sumalee and the appeals tribunal. (One parent tried to get the attorney general to prosecute Sumalee for "misconduct.") Ultimately, the Thai Supreme Court upheld the decision of the appeals tribunal, and the Kasetsart school reluctantly showed Sumalee the grades and test sheets. The documents revealed that a child with the same score as Nattanich -- a supposedly failing score -- had been admitted to the school, but the school refused to explain exactly how it had picked between the two.

Since the other child came from a prominent family, Sumalee had a pretty good idea what had happened. She thus filed a complaint with the State Council (which serves as the Constitutional Court) that the school had violated Article 30 of the Thai Constitution, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, place of birth, age, and social or economic status. The council not only agreed with Sumalee, but also ordered the abolition in all state schools of special admissions criteria based on financial contributions, sponsorships, and kinship arrangements. As a result, test scores are now public, privileged admissions are now prohibited, and Sumalee's case has dramatically raised Thais’ awareness of their access rights.

In early 1998, an elite school in Thailand picked on the wrong mother. Sumalee Limpaovart refused to believe that her brilliant daughter, Nattanich, had failed the entrance exam for an elementary school at the state-run Kasetsart University, so she filed a request at the school for copies of the test sheets and grades for everyone who took the exam.

When the school refused, Sumalee turned to the new Thai access law administered by the Office of the Official Information Commission (OIC). At first, the OIC declared that Sumalee could see only her own daughter’s answer sheet. However, an appeals tribunal ruled that the tests and scores were government data, not personal information, and could be released. The school refused to comply, and the parents of the other children even sued Sumalee and the appeals tribunal. (One parent tried to get the attorney general to prosecute Sumalee for "misconduct.") Ultimately, the Thai Supreme Court upheld the decision of the appeals tribunal, and the Kasetsart school reluctantly showed Sumalee the grades and test sheets. The documents revealed that a child with the same score as Nattanich — a supposedly failing score — had been admitted to the school, but the school refused to explain exactly how it had picked between the two.

Since the other child came from a prominent family, Sumalee had a pretty good idea what had happened. She thus filed a complaint with the State Council (which serves as the Constitutional Court) that the school had violated Article 30 of the Thai Constitution, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, place of birth, age, and social or economic status. The council not only agreed with Sumalee, but also ordered the abolition in all state schools of special admissions criteria based on financial contributions, sponsorships, and kinship arrangements. As a result, test scores are now public, privileged admissions are now prohibited, and Sumalee’s case has dramatically raised Thais’ awareness of their access rights.

Thomas Blanton is director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

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