Maryland's Highest Court Upholds Public Access to Campus Crime Information

ARLINGTON, VA. — Information about unpaid parking ticketsof student athletes and coaches as well as information about NCAAviolations relating to those tickets are public records, the highestcourt in Maryland ruled on December 8, reports the Student PressLaw Center.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruling came two years after thecase was filed by The Diamondback, the student newspaperat the University of Maryland’s College Park campus. The Diamondbackwent to court after learning that University of Maryland basketballplayer Duane Simpkins had accumulated more than $8,000 in unpaidparking fines, primarily for parking in handicapped parking spaces,and used money supplied by a former coach to pay off the 285 violations.The university refused the newspaper’s request for the parkingviolation records of other athletes and the basketball coach atthe school as well as correspondence with the NCAA regarding Simpkinshandling of the incident.

The university had argued that the records of the athleteswere exempt from disclosure under the state open records law becausethey were “education records” covered by the federalFamily Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), also knownas the Buckley Amendment. (The U.S. Department of Education andthe NCAA had filed briefs supporting the university’s position.)The coach’s parking violations were “personnel records”according to the university. The court rejected both of the school’sarguments.

“The legislative history of [FERPA] indicates that thestatute was not intended to preclude the release of any recordsimply because the record contained the name of a student,”the court’s unanimous opinion in Kirwan v. The Diamondbacksaid. “Congress intended to prevent educational institutionsfrom operating in secrecy.

“We hold that ‘education records’ within the meaning of[FERPA] do not include records of parking tickets or correspondencebetween the NCAA and the University regarding a student athleteaccepting a loan to pay parking tickets,” the opinion concluded.

“The decision represents another loss for schools who,with the blessing of the U.S. Department of Education, have attemptedto use FERPA to conceal information about criminal incidents oncampus,” said SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman. “Thisdecision should be yet another reminder that the student pressand the public will not tolerate the cover-up of campus crime.”

The Student Press Law Center, which filed a friend-of-the-courtbrief in the case in conjunction with other media organizations,has helped student newspapers at Southwest Missouri State University,the Community College of Pennsylvania, the University of Richmond,Louisiana State University at Shreveport, Miami University ofOhio, and Bemidji State University in Minnesota sue their schoolsfor campus police or security reports or disciplinary recordsrelating to criminal activity on campus. The Center successfulsued the U.S. Department of Education in 1991 to keep it fromthreatening the withdrawal of federal funding from schools thatreleased campus crime information. The SPLC has offered its assistanceto other college student media seeking access to the same informationthat the University of Maryland must now release.

Mark Goodman, Executive Director, Student Press Law Center(703) 807-1904

Elizabeth C. Koch, attorney for The Diamondback(202) 508-1100