Ohio Supreme Court rules that campus court records are open

OHIO — The Ohio Supreme Court today ruled that universitydisciplinary records are not protected from disclosure by federallaw.

In its decision, TheMiami Student v. Miami University, the court said thatstudent newspaper reporters at Miami University of Ohio do havethe right to see records of the school’s campus court proceedings.

Jennifer Markiewicz and Emily Hebert, now former editors ofThe Miami Student, filed suit against the university toobtain disciplinary records that the school claimed to be protectedfrom disclosure by the Federal Educational Rights and PrivacyAct (FERPA), commonly known as the Buckley Amendment.

FERPA is a federal law that allows the government to imposepenalties on schools that release a student’s “educationrecords” without the student’s permission. The student editorsclaimed that campus court records — many of which involved non-academiccriminal conduct — did not fall under the law’s definition of”education records.”.

Although the school had given The Miami Student someinformation regarding campus crimes, information such as nameof the student involved, location, time and date of the crimewere deleted.

The university argued that by disclosing this information,students could be identified, which they claimed would violateFERPA.

But the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed with the university’sinterpretation of FERPA, and determined that records of disciplinaryproceedings are not education records covered by law.

Judge Francis Sweeney wrote for the majority of the court,and referred to Red & Black Publishing Co. v. Board of Regentsof the University System of Georgia, a 1993 case that openedcampus disciplinary hearings at the University of Georgia.

The court determined that while the Miami University DisciplinaryBoard (UDB) hears cases of infractions of student rules, it alsohears criminal cases, such as physical and sexual assault cases,which were not always turned over to local police. Because ofthese criminal proceedings, the court concluded that the UDB hearingsare non-academic in nature.

“The UDB records, therefore, do not contain educationallyrelated information, such as grades or other academic data, andare unrelated to academic performance, financial aid, or scholasticperformance,” Sweeney wrote. “Consequently, we adoptthe reasoning of the Red & Black decision, and hold that universitydisciplinary records are not ‘education records’ as defined inFERPA.”

But the court did state that because The Miami Studentdid not request names and social security numbers to be includedon the records in question, the university does not have to disclosethat information in this instance.

Marc Mezibov, attorney for The Miami Student, said thedecision is binding on all state schools in Ohio, and has implicationsnationwide.

“In terms of schools across the country, it is certainlypersuasive authority, and follows the example of Red & Black,”Mezibov said.

The Georgia and Ohio Supreme Courts are the only state supremecourts to rule on public access to campus disciplinary records.

Press Release issued on 7/10/97by the Student Press Law Center about the Miami University decision.