Newspaper blocked in covering charges of Calif. student government drinking, drug use

Whena source told the student newspaper at Diablo Valley College that studentgovernment officials violated the school’s conduct code by drinking alcohol andusing drugs on a school-sponsored trip, reporters started askingquestions.

“We wanted to know which rules they broke and how manystudents were involved,” said Victoria English, editor in chief of TheInquirer.

In an attempt to find the answers to those questions andothers, The Inquirer turned to William Oye, dean of student life andadviser to the student government at the community college in PleasantHill.

The Inquirer learned that Oye had issued a report about theOct. 17 incident to college President Mark Edelstein, so on Oct. 29, thenewspaper requested a copy of the report with the students’ namesremoved.

“These are the leaders that are supposed to be setting theexample for all others on campus,” English said. “There has to be someaccountability.”

But Oye refused to release the report, saying it waspart of the students’ disciplinary record and was subject to state law and theFamily Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that imposespenalties on schools for having a policy or practice of releasing students’educational records without consent.

“The newspaper requestedconfidential education records, plain and simple,” Oye said. “Under FERPA, alleducation records are confidential.”

But in a Nov. 7 article in TheInquirer, Edelstein said no formal disciplinary action or proceeding wastaken against the 19 student government officials who later apologized forviolating the conduct code. The conduct code, among other things, prohibitsdrinking alcohol and using drugs on school-sponsored trips. 

SoEnglish and The Inquirer staff are left asking: If there was nodisciplinary action taken against the students, how can a report on the incidentbe part of a disciplinary record? Why are college officials so reluctant torelease the report, even with the students’ names blacked out? Why did thecollege choose to not discipline students for breaking its conductcode?

“I believe [the college officials] are interpreting FERPA to fittheir needs,” English said. “They’re trying to protect thosestudents.”

English said the newspaper will continue fighting for accessto the report.

“It’s our job to hold [the student government officials]accountable,” English said.

SPLC View: FERPA strikes again.We’ve said it before, we’ll no doubt say it again and again: FERPA is a good lawgone bad. Classifying records related to the alleged illegal drug and alcoholuse of the top elected student officials on a college campus as “educationrecords” protected by the federal law is light years away from the transcriptsand test scores that FERPA was intended to protect.