Student Press Law Center v. Lamar Alexander

778 F. Supp. 1227 (D.D.C. 1991)

In February 1991, the Student Press Law Center released a “survey indicating that 24 universities routinely disclosed personally identifiable information regarding students in campus crime reports.” In response, the Department of Education threatened to cut federal funding from universities for disclosing personal information on campus crime reports because it was believed to violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. After the DoE notified Colorado State University of its intention to cut funding, CSU’s police department stopped providing public access to the campus crime reports. The police department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville already had a policy in place against releasing the names of students arrested on campus. Student journalists from both schools, one from CSU and two from UT, joined the SPLC in a suit against the DoE for its violation of FERPA when it came to non-educational matters, such as crime reports.

In November 1991, the United States District Court, District of Columbia, ruled in favor of the SPLC that the students have the right to access the information from crime reports under the First Amendment and that FERPA does not protect university police crime reports.  The court also ruled that the DoE and Secretary of Education cannot prevent universities from disclosing “personally identifiable information regarding students in law enforcement records” to the public by way of threatening to end federal funding.