FERPA changes result in triumph in Mo.

\nMISSOURI – In the first legal actions filed since the 1998\namendments to the Higher Education Act made changes to the federal\nFamily Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), commonly known\nas the Buckley Amendment, a state judge ordered Southwest Missouri\nState University to release student disciplinary records to the\nschool newspaper in a January court decision.

Missouri Circuit Court Judge Henry Westbrook wrote in his ruling\nin Board of Governors v. Nolan, No. 198CC4344 (Mo. Cir.\nCt. Jan. 26, 1999), that all final results of any disciplinary\nproceeding against a student who is an alleged perpetrator of\na crime of violence or nonforcible sex offense must be disclosed\nupon request.

“I am pleased that the court upheld the law,” Pat Nolan,\nthe assignment editor for The Southwest Standard, said.\n”I had absolutely no doubt that we were going to win.”

But Nolan said that he wishes the ruling would have gone further,\nrequiring that records other than the final results of a disciplinary\nproceeding be released. As the ruling stands, Nolan said, it is\nimpossible to see if judicial proceedings are being carried out\nfairly because only the records of those found guilty are released.

“In the last two years, for only five names to turn up in\na school of this size is ludicrous,” Nolan said.

In November, Nolan asked for a copy of judicial actions on campus\nfrom 1997 through November 1998, citing Missouri’s open records\nlaws. But University officials, worried they might violate FERPA,\ndid not release the records.

Instead, the university filed a lawsuit against Nolan, asking\nthe court to determine what information the university could legally\nrelease.

SMSU, like many other universities, had long relied on FERPA to\nkeep campus court records secret. The law protects the confidentiality\nof education records that contain personally identifiable information.

But in 1998, President Clinton signed legislation that clarifies\nFERPA, saying the law cannot be used by schools to avoid releasing\nthe outcome of campus judiciary proceedings concerning crimes\nof violence.

After the court ruling, The Southwest Standard received\nthe requested records and printed the names of five students who\nhad been found guilty in the proceedings.

Since then, Nolan said, the University has been cooperative in\nreleasing judicial proceedings final results. The paper has printed\nthe name of one other student as the result of the school releasing\nthese records.

Though the school maintained that its lawsuit was not adversarial,\nNolan said that relations between the paper and university officials\nhave not been without friction. A few weeks after the court ordered\nthe records released, Standard reporters were barred from\na university committee meeting about the appropriation of student\nfunds.

Nolan said that after he wrote a series of letters to University\nofficials and committee members explaining the right of the reporters\nto attend the meeting under state sunshine laws, the next meeting\nwas opened.