A legal victory for the student press in Kentucky's ongoing battle for open records
KENTUCKY — A circuit court judge ruled Oct. 13 that the state Attorney General has the right to privately review public records on sexual assault at Kentucky State University to determine whether the school is required to release them to student reporters. KSU has argued it can't release the records because of federal privacy law.
Here's a timeline of events:
The saga began in 2016 when the Kernel requested documents from the University of Kentucky relating to a professor accused of sexual harassment. When the university , citing the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the paper appealed to the state's Attorney General.
Kentucky's Open Records Act states that the Attorney General may conduct a private review of the requested documents to determine whether or not they should be released. However, the University of Kentucky refused to do so, arguing that releasing the documents—even to the Attorney General for a private review—would violate their obligation to protect student privacy under FERPA. As a federal law, FERPA supersedes the Kentucky Open Records Act anywhere they may be in conflict.
The Oct. 13 decision, issued by a different circuit court, pertains to one of those other fronts — Kentucky State University.
The case turned in large part on the question of whether sending the documents to the Attorney General constitutes a disclosure and is thus restricted by FERPA. Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that, because the Attorney General reviews the records in private, it did not.
From here, the university may decide to appeal, and the disputes may ultimately end up before the Kentucky Supreme Court.
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