Paper loses fight for disciplinary files

OHIO ‘ The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on July 27 upheld an injunction sought by the U.S. Department of Education to keep Ohio State University and Miami University from releasing student disciplinary records covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

‘We’re disappointed,’ said Scott Jaschik, editor of The Chronicle. ‘We continue to think that this issue is a very important one, and that it’s essential that journalists and the public understand how campus judicial systems work. That’s impossible to do if you don’t know who’s involved.’

The question of how much information should be released arose when The Chronicle requested the results of student disciplinary hearings from Miami University and Ohio State University ‘ with names and identifying information intact ‘ under the same Ohio open-records law the student newspaper at Miami University used to obtain similar records in 1997.

After the schools began to comply with The Chronicle‘s request under the previous ruling, the Department of Education filed for an injunction preventing the schools from releasing the information to The Chronicle.

The district court granted the Department of Education’s injunction and a motion for summary judgment, and The Chronicle appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to obtain the records.

The opinion handed down grants the Department of Education the authority to seek injunctive relief against schools despite FERPA’s lack of explicit language to apply such a remedy.

‘The ruling in U.S. v. Miami University reinforces the need for Congress to fully acknowledge the distinction between records dealing with campus crime and [those dealing with] grades that they have been moving toward incrementally for over a decade,’ said Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, a campus crime watchdog group.

Jaschik was unsure if The Chronicle would appeal.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the SPLC, stressed that the decision as it stands will only perpetuate the concealment of crime information from the campus community.

‘For the young woman raped by a star athlete or the student activities fund ripped-off by embezzlement from a student government officer, this ruling means that schools will continue to use FERPA to thwart public access, ensuring that there will be more victims like you,’ Goodman said.

Since the case went to court, Congress amended FERPA to allow the release of disciplinary records when a student has been found responsible for behavior that would constitute a crime of violence or a non-forcible sex offense. The Sixth Circuit noted that those records could be released.

case: U.S. v. Miami Univ., 294 F.3d 797 (6th Cir. 2002)