Proposed FERPA amendment requires schools to disclose disciplinary outcomes

Federal lawmakers will once again debate whether crime victims should have access to the outcomes of college and university disciplinary hearings connected to their cases.


Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (D-N.J.) reintroduced The David Shick Honesty in Campus Justice Act on Jan. 4. The act would require that schools “disclose to the alleged victim of any crime of violence, or a nonforcible sex offense, the final results of any disciplinary proceeding.”

First introduced in September 2003, the act is named for David Shick, a Georgetown University junior who died after hitting his head during a fight in a campus parking lot in February 2000. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not file criminal charges in the case. When the student implicated in his death appeared before the campus judiciary board, Georgetown officials assigned him a 10-page paper about the incident and a semester suspension. The board later granted the student a suspension deferment and he graduated in 2002 without serving it.

The university refused to inform Shick’s parents of the outcome of the hearing unless they signed an agreement not to disclose the information to anyone — including David Shick’s siblings. The Shicks declined and did not learn of the student’s punishment until they filed a civil suit and won the information in an out-of-court settlement in 2001, according to The Georgetown Voice, an independent student publication.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act allows universities to require non-disclosure agreements before releasing the results of disciplinary hearings but does not require it. In its current form, FERPA gives universities the option to publicize the information. If the proposed legislation takes effect, schools would have to release such information to the victim’s family.

The bill is currently before the 21st Century Competitiveness subcommittee, part of the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

SPLC View: This law seems like such a no-brainer. Indeed, the very idea that such an amendment is even necessary stands as testimony to the ongoing misapplication of FERPA to cover up campus crime. FERPA was enacted more than thirty years ago to protect student education records – grade transcripts, test scores, teacher recommendations. One can only imagine how shocked its original drafters would be to know that it is being used by schools to prevent parents from knowing (or telling their family members) how a school has dealt with individuals involved in the death of their child.