Georgia school says surveillance video from gym where student died is protected by FERPA
The family of a high school senior found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat last January has asked to see video surveillance footage from the school gym where his body was found.
Kendrick Johnson’s family believes the video may show evidence that his death was not an accident, as the Lowndes County Sherrif’s Office has determined. So far, the school system has released only a few still images from the cameras. The Lowndes County School system attorney, Warren Turner, said the district cannot release the recordings because they are education records protected under FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Source: WTXL, Attorneys for Kendrick Johnson’s family want gym video. (Oct. 10, 2013)
Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein: Let’s just get the law out of the way so we can truly ponder the magnitude of maladjusted selfishness that invoking FERPA in this instance requires.
FERPA rights generally terminate at death. However, when the rights involve a minor–and Kendrick Johnson was 17–the rights belonged, and still belong, to his parents.
You remember his parents–they’re the ones being told that they aren’t permitted to see the video because it might violate FERPA.
You might also recall that FERPA is a right of access statute as well, ensuring that parents (or eligible students) can obtain copies of their own records. That’s true even when other students might be identified in the record, if those students relevant to the incident; other students could have their faces blurred. See the 2008 Notice of Final Regulations on 34 CFR Part 99 at page 78433.
So in short, the school district is violating the FERPA rights of Johnson’s parents by refusing to hand over the video and citing FERPA as a basis for why it’s violating FERPA.
And all of that said, none of it is really the point.
Put aside that the law says the exact opposite of what the school says it does. When grieving parents asked to see details of their son’s death, the school sat down and said, “Let’s look for a reason not to cooperate."
I wish I had words to invoke in this district’s administrators the sense of shame to which they are apparently immune, but only the Almighty can give someone a soul.