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Palin contract flap exposes "auxiliary" loophole in California open records law

(04/14/10 3:58pm)

Sarah Palin can easily start an uproar wherever she goes and whatever she does lately. The latest controversy over her scheduled appearance at California State University Stanislaus only proves it, with her colorful rider demands and administrators trying to hide the cost of her visit to the university. Students at CSU Stanislaus found shredded documents in the garbage on Tuesday relating to the former vice presidential nominee's upcoming speaking engagement -- after the university claimed no documents existed. The CSU Stanislaus students were able to retrieve five pages of the contract from a campus trash bin last Friday after hearing administrators were engaged in shredding documents, according to The Washington Post. California State Sen.

Virginia AG: No First Amendment concern in police raid of JMU Breeze newsroom

(04/26/10 4:56pm)

After being shown support from local and national news outlets in the form of extensive coverage and editorials, The Breeze newspaper at James Madison University learned Friday that it does not have the support of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The Breeze website quotes Cuccinelli’s statement, saying he fully supports Rockingham Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst’s actions on April 16, when she, along with several Harrisonburg Police officers, executed a search warrant in the newsroom of the Breeze. “I support any and all legal means to gather information to build a case against people who allegedly harmed or intended to harm law enforcement officers,” Cuccinelli said, according to the Breeze website. The search warrant was for pictures the Breeze had of a recent riot near the JMU campus.

Maryland AG: Colleges can't use FERPA to conceal discipline of sexual assaults

(04/02/10 6:54pm)

It's understandable when colleges use their confidential in-house disciplinary systems to afford a "do-over" to a student who violates a campus rule (say, yelling profanities at a professor) or commits a minor, victimless offense (say, sneaking a six-pack into the dorm). Such behavior would never result in a criminal charge if it happened at an off-campus apartment, and it seems inequitable to inflict a permanent scar on a young person's record because he happens to live in Ivy Hall instead of Ivy Apartments. But if this much is true, then the converse also is true, and it is likewise inequitable to give a free pass to a person accused of a violent offense carrying potential felony charges just because the offender was "lucky" enough to attack someone on campus. Campus disciplinary bodies operate almost entirely in secret, thanks to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA"), the federal confidentiality law that protects against disclosure of students' educational records.

An award no school should celebrate - Jefferson Center Muzzles "honor" a year of unnecessary censorship

(04/13/10 4:33pm)

To celebrate its namesake’s birthday, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia today released the names of the recipients of the 2010 Jefferson Muzzles, a dubious "honor” awarded to those who have inhibited free speech and expression during the past year. Two of the Center's “honorees” limited student speech in public schools.

These tattoos rub off. The stain of censorship won't.

(04/15/10 2:42pm)

On Friday, hundreds of the brightest young people from across America will lend their cheeks and their forearms to send a message to the censors back in Wentzville, Missouri, that they aren't fooling anyone. Friday is "Timberland Tattoo Solidarity Day" at the National High School Journalism Convention in Portland, Oregon -- an event we hope is the last of its kind.

Suit alleges school snoop-cams peeped into students' bedrooms

(04/16/10 5:53pm)

Things in the Lower Merion School District just keep getting creepier. The Philidelphia Inquirer reported today that the webcams installed in laptops school-issued at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania secretly captured thousands of images—including students' website history and online chat excerpts. But it doesn't stop there: the cameras also took photos of students in their bedrooms while they were asleep or undressing, according to a new motion filed in a suit against the school district yesterday by the parents of sophomore Blake Robbins of Harriton High School. The motion states the webcam took multiple photos of Robbins in bed as he slept.

California cop's sexy texts may leave records requesters heartbroken

(04/20/10 5:12pm)

When California police sergeant Jeff Quon used his city-issued pager to exchange racy text messages with his girlfriend, it is readily apparent what was on his mind – and it was not the future of journalists’ access to public records. Nevertheless, Quon’s dispute with his former employer has become the unlikely vehicle for a court case placing the accessibility of government officials’ electronic correspondence at risk. On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Quon’s case arising out of his dismissal by the City of Ontario, Calif., on the grounds of excessive personal use of city equipment. Quon contends that the city’s inspection of the content of his messages violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches.

The good news: DOE is moving on FERPA. The bad news: It might be moving in reverse.

(04/30/10 3:42pm)

The federal privacy regime governing student records is badly broken, perhaps beyond repair. Schools and colleges don't understand -- or choose not to understand -- where legitimate student privacy interests end and where the public's interest in disclosure begins, and too often reject journalists' valid information requests by raising bogus confidentiality claims.