WASHINGTON, D.C. — The fight for access to campus courtrecords took a big step forward Wednesday afternoon when the U.S.House of Representatives adopted the Foley Amendment to H.R. 6.Offered by Representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.), the amendment wouldchange a section of the FamilyEducational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), commonly knownas the Buckley Amendment, which prohibits schools from releasingstudent “education records” without a student’s (orin some cases, parental) permission.
FERPA has been a constant source of frustration to collegejournalists trying to cover campus crime. Despite two state supremecourt cases to the contrary, the U.S. Department of Educationhas held to its interpretation that student disciplinary records,including records involving serious criminal activity, fall underthe “education records” definition. This has providedschool officials with a ready excuse for keeping the doors closedon its secret campus courts. The Foley Amendment would eliminatethat excuse.
The change will force most public colleges and universitiesto provide public access to its campus court records, includingthe names of criminal offenders, under their state freedom ofinformation laws. Private schools, too, would be under increasedpublic pressure to provide such information once the federal obstacleis removed.