No. 10 CV 001941, 2012 WL 2614387 (N.C. Super. 2012)
The News & Observer, along with seven other North Carolina and national media groups, including The Daily Tar Heel, requested access to records from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after football players were accused of receiving improper benefits from agents. A university tutor was also accused of providing inappropriate assistance on academic assignments and providing illegal benefits for players.
The news organizations requested a variety of public records, including records that were part of the university’s investigation into the allegations, the names of individuals found to have provided impermissible benefits to football players, parking tickets issued to eleven players, the names and employment information of university student-athlete tutors, and the recipients of athletic scholarships. The university denied the request, citing FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The N&O and other media entities claimed the records they requested were not related to education, were not protected by FERPA, and were subject to disclosure under the state’s public record law.
In an April 2011 memo, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ordered the university to release many, but not all of the records, saying they were not protected by FERPA. Among the records ordered released were unredacted phone numbers on phone bills for university-provided cell phones and parking ticket records. Manning wrote that FERPA “does not provide a student with an invisible cloak so that the student can remain hidden from public view while enrolled.” The employment records of UNC student-athlete tutors who are students themselves are protected by FERPA, Manning wrote.
In August 2012, Manning issued a second memo resolving the remaining issues in the case and ordered more documents to be released, including records provided to the NCAA during its investigation into whether improper benefits were provided.