What/where/when of sexual assaults is a FERPA secret, Illinois college claims

Naperville’s North Central College, located in an affluent suburb just west of Chicago, acknowledges receiving reports of 10 sexual assaults over the most recent available three-year period. But that’s all they’ll acknowledge.

The circumstances of each case – even the locations, dates and times – are a closely guarded secret because, Dean of Student Kimberly Sluis told the Naperville Sun, the university believes that FERPA makes those details confidential. 

Source: “Ten sex assaults at North Central in three years,” The Naperville Sun, March 21, 2016

Former Executive Director Frank LoMonte: There are FERPA misapplications that are legally wrong. There are FERPA misapplications that are logically wrong. There are FERPA applications that are morally wrong. Way to go, Dean Kimberly Sluis, you’re a Triple Crown winner.

(1) Law. While much about FERPA is dense, confounding and impenetrable, this much is clear: It was never intended to obstruct access to information about crime. To the contrary, the federal Jeanne Clery Act affirmatively entitles the public to real-time information about every crime reported to campus police or security, including exactly those elements that North Central College (falsely) claims are secret: The date, time, location and nature of each offense. 

(What’s more, FERPA applies only to “education records” that are centrally maintained by the institution and traceable to identifiable individual students. The what/where/when about crimes almost certainly does not come from an “education record” at all; it almost certainly comes from reports made to police or campus safety authorities, which are statutorily exempt from FERPA.)

(2) Logic. For North Central College to be correct, you have to find the following scenario plausible. Someone who is not already familiar with the circumstances of the crime will read the description in the newspaper and conclude: “Oh, this crime happened at 11 p.m. on April 27, 2014, in the Johnson Hall dormitory. I vividly remember seeing Sally Smith walking into Johnson Hall at half past 10 on that very same night, and – since I was surveilling the entry to Johnson Hall all day, and I know for a fact that not a single other female student was in the building at the time – now I know for sure she’s the victim.” Just. Not. Happening. 

(3) Morality. You are a university administrator. You have the possibility, however slight, of preventing a future violent crime by warning people on your campus that rapes cluster around certain times and locations. To do that, you have to reveal information that might (viewed with the benefit of the overactive imagination with which only educational administrators are blessed) place your school in technical violation of a federal record-keeping law that has never in four decades been enforced against anyone.

Are you really having a hard time choosing? 

North Central College isn’t. They picked secrecy over safety. They chose … poorly.

We rate this: Not protected by FERPA at all