ARKANSAS — University officials at Arkansas State Universitymust disclose student disciplinary records under the state’s freedomof information act, according to an opinion issued by the state’sattorney general on Feb. 20.
The opinion is the first time the state has considered whetheruniversity disciplinary records constitute "scholastic records,"which are exempt from disclosure under the freedom of informationact.
The university requested the attorney general’s opinion afterthe student newspaper, The Herald, asked for the disciplinaryrecords of two students Feb. 5.
Megan Lewis, news editor of The Herald, said universityofficials asked her what she would do if they denied her request.
"I told them I would go to the attorney general,"Lewis said. "Then the university decided to contact him firstto see whether or not they were protected by the Family EducationalRights and Privacy Act."
In 1998, Congress amended FERPA to allow, but not require,schools to release the outcome of a disciplinary proceeding inwhich the student involved has been found responsible for a violentcrime or nonforcible sex offenses, as well as the name of thestudent and the disciplinary action taken by the university.
The attorney general determined that the university was obligatedto release the records under the state open-records law.
Lewis said university officials notified The Herald aboutthe attorney general’s opinion two days after they received it.Administrators also advised the two students whose records hadbeen requested by The Herald that they should contact anattorney if they wished to try to prevent the release of theirinformation.
Lewis said The Herald requested the records to findout whether or not the university was enforcing its own policiesregarding violations of the student code of conduct.
"We never had any intention of publishing random backgroundinformation on the students who were punished at these hearings,"Lewis said. "We just wanted to find out what each persondid and then look at the university’s response to see if theywere being consistent. We are trying to do the right thing andbe a watchdog for the student body."
Not everyone understood The Herald’s intentions.
Lewis said one of the students whose disciplinary records TheHerald had attempted to obtain was arrested Feb. 23 for disorderlyconduct when he became involved in a heated discussion with Heraldadviser Bonnie Thrasher.
According to Thrasher, Duane Alvin came to The Heraldoffice to drop off a copy of his judicial records and endedup in a heated argument over the paper’s decision to review hisfile.
Download the Arkansas attorney general’s opinion from TheHerald’s Web site at: http://herald.astate.edu/herald/Hindex.html