New law raised in Ohio judicial record scase

Chronicle hopes act will help put an end to DOE's lawsuit

OHIO – Defense attorneys representing the Chronicle of Higher Education are hoping that recent amendments to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), also known as the Buckley Amendment, will help bolster their case concerning access to school disciplinary records.

The education journal joined Miami University and Ohio State University as a co-defendant in a federal lawsuit brought in January of last year by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to prevent the schools from releasing student disciplinary records. In July 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that disciplinary records were not “education records” under FERPA and had to be released under the state open records law.

Lawyers for the Chronicle filed a supplemental memorandum of law with the federal district court in Ohio in October after Congress passed the 1998 version of the Higher Education Act in September. The memorandum comes on the heels of the magazine’s motion to dismiss the case. The DOE has asked the court for a summary judgment.

The updated law contains several student press-friendly amendments, including provisions on access to disciplinary records. The memorandum highlights the new amendments’ impact on access to disciplinary records – the crux of the issue between U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the defendants.

“These amendments have an immediate and significant impact on the proper disposition of the …pending motions,” stated the memorandum. The DOE was granted a preliminary injunction to halt the release of school disciplinary records last February after the Chronicle used a previous Ohio Supreme Court decision to garner access to the records.

The defendants are hoping the injunction will be lifted and the motion for summary judgment will be denied, although no court date has been set for a hearing on the matter.

“The changes in FERPA vitiate the argument of the United States, and the ostensible concerns voiced by Ohio State and Miami, that federal legislation stands as a complete bar to the release of student disciplinary records,” continued the memorandum.

Marc D. Mezibov, an Cincinnati attorney representing the education journal, said he hopes the court will recognize that the new laws do give more access to the public-specifically concerning disciplinary records.

“The purpose of the legislation is to make clear that there are certain records on the college campus to which the public should have access,” Mezibov said.

reports, Winter 1998-99