Supreme Court agrees to hear second FERPA case

After 27 years of being ignored, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), also known as the Buckley Amendment, is suddenly getting quite of bit of attention from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court announced Jan. 11 to hear the second case of this term in which questions about the law are at issue.

The new case arose when Ru Paster, a graduate of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., claimed he couldn’t get a teaching job because Gonzaga officials told the state’s teacher-certification office that he had been accused of sexually assaulting another student.

Paster, who has denied that he assaulted the student, sued Gonzaga for negligence, defamation and invasion of privacy under FERPA.

Among other things, FERPA regulates school officials disclosure of student “education records” to outsiders without a student’s (or if a minor, a student’s parents’) consent.

Last June, the Washington State Supreme Court reversed a state court of appeals ruling and reinstated a $1.15 million award given to him by the trial court jury. The court said that Gonzaga had violated the student’s privacy and civil rights in violation of FERPA.

Lawyers for Gonzaga contend that the sole penalty for violating FERPA is the termination of federal funding by the U.S. Department of Education. The law does not, they argue, give individuals the right to sue colleges on their own.

The Gonzaga case comes just two months after the Court heard arguments in another FERPA case, Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo, where the Court was asked to decide whether a teacher’s policy of having students grade each other’s test papers and call out the scores in class violated FERPA.

SPLC View: The Court’s decision to hear the Gonzaga case has most Court watcher’s speculating that the justices will likely deny the claims of the students in both cases and rule that the law does not permit individuals to sue on their own. There is no guarantee of such an outcome, but we think that’s a pretty good guess. For student media