The Miami Report

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Federal court says student records private

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled Monday (March 20) that university disciplinary records are protected under the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and therefore are confidential.

The ruling is the latest in a complex five-year legal battle that began in 1995 when The Miami Student sued Miami for access to disciplinary records.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that disciplinary records are not protected by FERPA and that they are open for inspection under Ohio’s public records statute.

Within weeks of that ruling Miami and other Ohio colleges and universities received requests from local and national media for disciplinary records. Miami and Ohio State were in the process of responding to a request from the Chronicle of Higher Education for the records when the U. S. Department of Education filed a complaint in U.S. District Court to prohibit both universities from releasing the information.

"We’ve been caught in the middle for five years now. We’ve been sued by the media for not releasing the records and by the U.S. Department of Education for attempting to cooperate with the media. This latest ruling should provide much-needed clarification to not just Miami, but all of Ohio’s colleges and universities," said Richard Little, senior director of university communications.

The legal battle concerned information in the disciplinary records that might personally identify any students involved. Judge George C. Smith ruled that Congress had intended disciplinary records to be considered part of students’ educational records and thus private.

"Congress, through FERPA, has balanced the interests of privacy versus public disclosure and the court is in no position to second guess it," the judge wrote.

Date Published: 03/23/2000
Volume: 19   Number: 29


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