Montana Supreme Court rules school board should have released records of disciplinary action

The Montana Supreme Courtruled May 8 that a school board was wrong to deny a community newspaper accessto records showing disciplinary action taken against unnamedstudents.
The case centers around two students of the Cut BankPublic School District who were disciplined in September 2005 for shooting otherstudents with plastic BB’s on school property, according to the court’s opinion.The Cut Bank Pioneer Press, requested documentation “relating to thedisciplinary actions taken against the students involved.” The newspaper did notrequest the student’s names and specifically asked that the students’ names beremoved.
Read the full story, which includes a link to the court’sdecision, at:
SPLCView: High school student media across the country should print thisdecision out and keep it on file. In short, the court here said that publicschool officials cannot rely on the federal Family Educational Rights andPrivacy Act (FERPA) to deny media — which includes student media — access tostudent disciplinary records where students’ names are blacked out or otherwiseomitted. FERPA, the court correctly noted, only protects information thatidentifies specific individuals. Moreover, the court found, the reporter’sability to identify the students in the school records from information sheobtained from the “small town rumor mill” did not give school officials theauthority to deny access to the otherwise public records.
Publichigh school student journalists are entitled to seek information — withoutnames — that describes what sort of problems have occurred at their schools andwhat disciplinary action school officials have taken in such cases. If nothingelse, such information would allow student news organizations to track trends indisciplinary problems at their schools and better inform their readers about theconsequences of misbehavior.
Case: Board of Trustees, CutBank Pub. Sch. v. Cut Bank Pioneer Press, No. DA 06-0074, 2007 WL 1334561(Mont. May 8, 2007)