Missouri officials claim FERPA to conceal state capitol interns’ identities

Interest in the identities of Missouri statehouse interns followed news that a state university was conducting a Title IX investigation after two students ended their Senate internships early. Interest increased after House Speaker John Diehl admitted to sexting a 19-year-old intern. He’s not speaker anymore.

In response, Missouri legislative officials are citing the federal student privacy law, FERPA, to shut down inquiries.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, state House and Senate officials have declined to provide the names, colleges and legislative office assignments of interns. A Missouri House attorney told the newspaper that House internships are conducted through partnerships with colleges, and interns’ information is therefore protected by FERPA.

Source: St Louis Post-Dispatch, Officials cite law for withholding intern info, even though it likely doesn’t apply (5/27/2015)

Former SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte: No question about it, this is undoubtedly a FERPA violation, yessirree. Open-and-shut. Book ‘em, Dan-o.

Telling the public about where college students are interning is such a grotesque violation of privacy that the only thing that could possibly be worse would be posting the actual names of your interns on the InternetWith pictures of their actual faces. Or issuing press releases bragging about the actual placements your interns received. Or publishing testimonials about students’ actual internship experiences. Why, if just identifying where students are interning would result in a U.S. Department of Education fine, then anyone who posted an actual video of a student describing an actual internship experience on the Internet would be looking at some serious prison time. 

Oh wait, you’re saying … college actually do all of those things? All the time? But … that would be … hypocritical. You’d be saying that colleges … don’t think disclosing your internship placement is an invasion of privacy when it suits their self-promotion needs? 

Pow. Mind. Blown. 

Bottom line: Colleges have never classified the list of which students received which internship placements as a confidential educational matter, and they can’t start now just because those placements became newsworthy. You can’t be a little bit pregnant and you can’t be a little bit FERPA, either. 

(Bonus extra-credit law: Essentially every educational institution in America, including the University of Missouri, maintains a “directory information” policy that says information about “participation in officially recognized activities” is categorically exempt from FERPA. Internships are an officially recognized activity. So, there’s that.)

Not to mention that we’re not talking about a college. We’re talking about the Missouri legislature. FERPA regulations say that a college may disclose confidential education records to outside parties only if that outside party is “under the direct control of the
agency or institution with respect to the
use and maintenance of education
records.” So if any FERPA violation occurred, it would be when a university disclosed education records to the Missouri legislature, which cannot operate “under the direct control” of a university (the legislature controls the universities, not the other way around).

But of course, that didn’t happen. Because a list of internship placements isn’t a confidential FERPA record. Just ask this university. Or this one. Or this oneOr this legislature. Or… 

We rate this: not protected by FERPA at all