U.S. bill prohibits schools from concealing results of judicial hearings from campus crime victims

David Shick was a junior at Georgetown University in 2000 when he died after hitting his head during a parking lot brawl. His parents did not learn the fate of his alleged assailant until a year later when they sued the school.The student implicated in Shick's death was not charged with a crime, but appeared before the university's disciplinary board. School representatives told the Shicks they would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. After the Shicks won the information in an out-of-court settlement, they learned the student had been granted a suspension deferment and graduated without serving it.A bill reintroduced to the U.S. Congress in January would grant crime victims and their families access to the results of school disciplinary hearings connected to their cases. The bill would make it unlawful for schools to conceal the information or to mandate that victims not reveal it to anyone else. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) reintroduced the David Shick Honesty in Campus Justice Act to the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 81 in January with the hope that this will be the year for Congress to tackle higher education issues.S. Daniel Carter, vice-president of Security on Campus, Inc., said legislators prefer to save bills and group them by topic rather than review a random assortment each term. He said 1998 was the last year Congress heard a slew of higher education bills and thinks "this will be the year."Frelinghuysen first introduced the David Shick Honesty in Campus Justice Act in 2003 to amend the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA determines when schools are allowed to release students' education records. It does not, however, prohibit schools from requiring non-disclosure agreements before releasing the results of an alleged perpetrator's judicial hearing, even to the victim of the incident in question. H.R. 81 would allow victims of "any crime of violence or a nonforcible sex offense" to learn of their alleged perpetrator's punishment and do with that information whatever he or she sees fit. The affirmative notice requirement of the federal Clery Act, which mandates that schools publish annual campus crime statistics, already grants sexual assault victims the right to access perpetrators' disciplinary hearing results. H.R. 81 would extend that right to victims of other violent crimes and bolster the Clery Act's disclosure mandate for sexual assault victims."In addition to filing a complaint with the Department of Education's Case Management Team, [a sexual assault victim seeking records] would also file a complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office," which enforces FERPA, Carter said. Carter said that in addition to providing victims with emotional closure, the bill would increase general safety on campus."Anything that makes victims more comfortable with coming forward and participating in the disciplinary process, encourages reporting and participation in the process, makes campus safer," he said. "[H.R. 81] gives [victims] the unfettered freedom that if they believe there is a threat that's allowed to remain on campus to warn the rest of the campus. It's not necessarily the best thing to put the obligation on them but if they want to do it they have the freedom to and the law shouldn't tell them they can't."Julie Green Bataille, a spokeswoman for Georgetown University, said the school remains neutral."Georgetown has not taken a specific position on the legislation," she said. "Obviously, if changes to the law were to occur, we would comply and seek guidance as necessary to implement them." H.R. 81 was assigned to the Committee on Education and the Workforce and moved to the 21st Century Competitiveness subcommittee in early February. Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.) signed on as a cosponsor in April.

reports, Spring 2005