Court: UF student senate recordings not covered by FERPA

FLORIDA — A statecourt judge ruled in favor of former University of Florida student Frank Braccoseeking the release of audio and video records of UF student senate meetings.

“Today was a major victory for Sunshine advocates in highereducation,” Bracco said in a press release following the Jan. 10 judgment,“And, I hope this case sends a message to the State University System thatpublic meeting records are just that: public.”

The university argued that the records are protected by the FamilyEducational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), claiming they fall under thecategory of educational records, which are not publicly accessible.

Bracco said he intended to post the videos of the meetingsonline, in order to promote the transparency of UF student government. He filedsuit in August 2009 after the university denied his request for the records.

“The original intention was to allow student government tobe able to release these records themselves, be able to promote themselves, tobe able to get transparency out there like they should be,” Bracco said.

Prior to 2008, Bracco said all of the files were publiclyavailable, and in the past were broadcast on television, with no question as towhether they were protected by FERPA.

Bracco was invited to review the records in the studentsenate office at his convenience, but was not allowed to obtain copies,according to court documents.

“The thing that boggles my mind is I can come in and listento them, but I can’t get copies of them,” Bracco said. “And this just flies inthe face of the whole FERPA argument. FERPA means they’re protected and I can’tlook at them.”

Attorney Jim Sullivan, representing Bracco in the case,pointed out that Florida law establishes student government at UF and grantsthe student body president a seat at the board of governors along with a numberof other statutory powers.

“In our case, it merely clarifies that the studentgovernment is certainly not a private entity,” Sullivan said. “It is part ofthe University of Florida, which is a state agency subject to public recordsdisclosure.”

According to the ruling by Circuit Judge Victor L.Hulslander, “While the videos depict students discussing student and Universitybusiness, the record does not reflect that the proceedings relate directly toan identified student. Rather, the proceedings relate generally to topics ofimportance to students and may identify specific students, but not as a focusof the record. Moreover, because the meeting itself was open, it is hardlylogical that a memorialization of it would be confidential.”

Bracco said he hopes the court will release a final judgmentthis week.

“Once we get final judgment, it’s at that time that the universityhands over the records or unfortunately decides to appeal,” Bracco said.

If they do appeal, Sullivan said the case could be yearsaway from a final resolution, possibly reaching the Florida Supreme Court.

“Sitting from where they’re sitting, they may see that as anappropriate action and I don’t mean to be critical of that,” Sullivan said.

University spokeswoman Janine Sikes said that the universityhas not yet decided its reaction to the ruling.

“Certainly the University of Florida supports transparencyin its student senate meetings,” Sikes said. “We’re evaluating the ruling andweighing that against our obligations under FERPA.”

Although Bracco is now a graduate of UF, he is determined toget the student senate records online.

“The intention is to still go forward with the original planof allowing student government to post these records online,” Bracco said. “IfI need to put them online myself to get to that point, I’ll do it.”