Colo. college student waived privacy rights, but reporters still not allowed into hearing

COLORADO — Two student journalists who were deniedaccess to a judicial hearing involving charges against their student governmentpresident claim the college violated state and federal law.StephanEvans, student government president at Metro State College, provided a signedwaiver giving Noelle Leavitt and Lindsay Sandham, reporters for the studentnewspaper The Metropolitan, permission to attend the hearing. Evans, whoprefers to go by the name Brotha Seku, was charged with five counts of violatingthe student code, including charges of verbal and physical abuse in his role asstudent government president. The waiver also agreed to give the newspaperaccess to evidence, taped records and any other matter relating to testimony.However, school officials say that the student judicial code preventedthem from granting this request.”Hearings are conducted in private,”said Student Judicial Officer Elyse Yamauchi. “No individual can waive thatpolicy.”Leavitt and Sandham were blocked from attending the hearing inpart because the student who had filed the complaint against Evans had not givenconsent to the reporters, said the college’s lawyer, Lee Combs. “Onestudent can’t open up the whole meeting without compromising the other students’privacy interests,” Combs said. “[But] the primary issue … is that our policysays these meetings are closed.”The college also cited the FamilyEducational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, as a reason that it could not openthe hearings. Under the federal law, a school can lose its federal funding if ithas a “policy or practice of permitting the release of [students’] educationrecords … without the written consent” of the students involved. Under the law, students can waive their privacy rights, as Evans did.The Metropolitan also claims that the college violated theColorado Open Meetings Law by closing the hearing. The law says that meetingsmay remain closed to review charges or complaints against students if publicdisclosure could adversely affect the person or persons involved, “unless thestudents have specifically consented to or requested the disclosure of suchmatters.”Leavitt said The Metropolitan is considering legalaction.”This is the first time the [Evans] was going in for possibleexpulsion or suspension,” Leavitt said. “That’s huge, and I wanted to cover itbecause I thought that students should know one: what’s going to happen to theirstudent government president, and two: what he was being chargedwith.”