Among the details being shared now about the man behind the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School are records about his attendance at Western Connecticut State University. A spokesman for the school district told the Associated Press that the shooter earned a 3.26 grad point average while taking classes as a teenager. He earned an A in a computer class, A- in American history and a B in macroeconomics, according to the AP’s report.
Source: The Associated Press, School gunman went to Conn. univ. when he was 16. (Dec. 17, 2012)
Former SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte: Washington’s about to drive over a cliff. You can’t go anywhere without a bulletproof vest anymore. And we’re out of Twinkies. Let’s face it, America: 2012 sucked.
So let’s end it on a modestly positive note, by giving props to a college that put aside FERPA mythology and correctly honored a request for public records – without triggering the Mayan apocalypse.
Normally, federal law makes students’ grades confidential, and that confidentiality survives graduation. But when a (present or former) student dies, FERPA privacy dies too – the U.S. Department of Education’s chief FERPA enforcer said as much in a December 1994 advisory opinion to Maine’s Bates College.
Not a lot about federal privacy law is consistent with common sense, but this is one time the two actually align. Courts have said for decades that the common-law right of privacy does not survive the individual’s death. It would defy logic to say that a writer was free after your death to publicize your drinking habits, your extramarital affairs and your embarrassing venereal diseases – but not that C-minus you got in Trigonometry.
Eagle-eyed readers may note that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza attended college starting at age 16, and may wonder whether that changes the rules. It doesn’t – but if you noticed that, then you’re probably a terror at “Where’s Waldo."
When the student is a minor, the right of FERPA confidentiality belongs to the parent, not the student – except if little Doogie goes to college early. The FERPA statute, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g(d), provides that the right to consent to the release of confidential records belongs to the student and not the parent "whenever a student has attained eighteen years of age, or is attending an institution of postsecondary education” (emphasis added).
So the answer remains – the right to object to the release belongs to the college student, and with his death, the right to object dies as well. Western Connecticut State acted consistently both with FERPA and with common sense in fulfilling the AP’s request.
It’s pretty pathetic when you have to pop a champagne cork to celebrate a college not acting irrationally and not violating the open-records act – but consistent with 2012 as the year of lowered expectations, we’ll take it.
With wishes for a more transparent 2013,
We rate this: a pretty legitimate use of FERPA