Citing New Federal Campus Crime Law, Missouri Judge Orders School to Release Campus Court Records

In the first case involving application of the federal campus crime reporting laws enacted last fall, a Missouri judge ruled on January 26 that Southwest Missouri State University was required to open certain student disciplinary records to the public.

Three days after the ruling, the university released the names of five students who had been found guilty in campus judicial proceedings of violent or sexual offenses.

The case arose after Patrick Nolan, the news assignment editor at SMSU’s student newspaper, the Standard, requested a copy of student judicial actions for 1997 through 1998. He also asked for specific information on an assault that occurred in September 1998.

Nolan filed his request soon after President Clinton signed a law in October clarifying that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), also known as the Buckley Amendment, could not be used by schools to avoid releasing the outcome of campus disciplinary proceedings when crimes of violence are at issue.

SMSU officials balked, admitting they were unclear about how to respond to Nolan’s request given the new law. In late November they filed what they described as a “non-adversarial” petition in state court seeking clarification regarding whether they could release the names and other information about students who had committed crimes on campus.

The January 26 order says that the university must release the final results of any disciplinary proceeding against a student “who is an alleged perpetrator of a crime of violence…or a nonforcible sex offense…” as authorized by federal law and required by the state’s open records law.