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Privacy group's challenge to Department of Education FERPA regs could hamper school accountability

(03/25/12 6:07pm)

Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution features a multi-part investigative blockbuster that uses computer-assisted reporting to identify suspiciously sharp gains in student aptitude test scores in districts across the country -- gains that, in Atlanta, were found to be evidence of widespread cheating by administrators and teachers. According to the AJC findings, about 200 school districts nationwide -- including schools in Houston, St.




TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Education Department allows access to records of employee tuition waivers

(08/21/12 6:21pm)

The cost of tuition has never been a hotter discussion topic. With the sticker price of a year's undergraduate education at a private university topping $28,500 a year -- and the average student graduating with more than $25,000 in loan debt -- serious questions are being raised about whether college is a sound financial investment. Because tuition costs are pinching family budgets so uncomfortably, the public is doubly outraged when it comes to light that well-connected insiders are getting a free ride -- at a cost that inevitably ends up being passed along to the paying customers. In recent years, journalists have brought to light questionable VIP tuition waiver programs in Illinois, where the governor and legislature just abolished a widely abused system of legislator-dispensed scholarships, and in Tennessee, where student government officers at the University of Memphis have benefited for years from free tuition covered by other students' activity fees. The latest free-ride program facing scrutiny is in Rhode Island, where an exceptionally generous perk waives tuition not just for college and university employees, but for their spouses and children as well.



Florida colleges ask court to revisit FERPA case involving student who complained about professor

(09/11/12 4:50pm)

More than two dozen Florida colleges and universities have filed a brief in support of a Florida college’s appeal after it was ordered to turn over an email from a student about a professor. After his contract wasn’t renewed in 2009, Darnell Rhea, a former adjunct professor at Santa Fe College, asked to see an email between a former student and one of his supervisors concerning his conduct.


Now that we know FERPA is unconstitutional, what do we do about it?

(09/13/12 4:26pm)

In today's Inside Higher Ed, I make the case for why the federal student privacy law, FERPA, almost certainly will be struck down as unconstitutional if challenged. The law's requirements -- that a school or college enforce the confidentiality of "education records" or forfeit every dollar of federal education money -- are so coercive that they flunk the standard set by the U.S.


SPJ approves resolution supporting legal efforts to end FERPA

(09/28/12 2:18pm)

The Society of Professional Journalists is formally supporting legal efforts to bring an end to FERPA, the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, following a resolution passed last week. The resolution, which passed unanimously at the group’s annual convention, encourages the news media legal community to find a strong case to challenge the constitutionality of FERPA under the Supreme Court’s “Obamacare” ruling. The 1974 law requires schools to keep “educational records” private or risk losing federal funding, something that has never happened in the 38 years the law has been in place.



Memphis administrators respond to "Break FERPA" campaign

(10/18/12 10:51am)

When we launched our Break FERPA campaign, we wanted to see how universities would respond when students asked for their own records in the same over-broad way schools use when withholding public records. Would schools maintain their previously held position, and turn over all the emails, notes, memos, video, audio, parking tickets or phone records where a student is personally identifiable, even if not mentioned by name?


Oklahoma State demonstrates why universities shouldn't handle sexual assault claims

(12/15/12 2:06pm)

Pop quiz: should you tell the police if you think someone is responsible for a pattern of sexual assaults? Well, that ain't how they do things down Oklahoma State way. In the past, I've made the point that universities shouldn't be adjudicating sexual assault claims. Both because they're bad at it and because they can't actually take these people off the streets. Now, Oklahoma State has provided an object lesson, by showing how much can go wrong when you let a bunch of amateur investigators pretend to do the jobs of police and courts. Consider what happened at Oklahoma State after five different students reported sexual assaults by the same alleged perpetrator. You would assume that a disciplinary committee at an institution faced with multiple reports of sexual assault by one person might say to themselves, "Gee, the training video we watched didn't really prepare us to do the proper investigation of sexual assault at this scale, so maybe we ought to call police." Surely a bunch of amateurs, with no authority to subpoena, no ability to collect or test forensics--certainly they wouldn't attempt to identify and punish a possible serial attacker, would they?


Oklahoma State's FERPA fig leaf just got a lot smaller

(12/21/12 11:10am)

There's nowhere left for Oklahoma State University to hide. The man in charge of interpreting the federal student privacy law for more than two decades, LeRoy Rooker, told the Tulsa World in an interview this week that Oklahoma State was under no legal requirement to withhold information about campus sexual assaults from the police. Rooker's interpretation flatly contradicts Oklahoma State legal counsel Gary Clark's insistence that the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA") forbade the university from alerting campus police about a string of reported sex crimes by a 22-year-old OSU senior. The student, Nathan Cochran, was charged Dec.



To fix FERPA, raise the price of lying

(01/20/13 1:14pm)

Put yourself in the place of a school or college attorney. Your client, the institution, is trying to decide whether to fulfill or reject a journalist's request for public records. Honoring the request is going to be a nuisance, and the records contain some embarrassing information the school would rather not see on the evening news. The records pretty clearly don't contain any confidential student information -- but the journalist can't easily prove that.




TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Journalists requesting public records from colleges are being treated like dogs. This Sunshine Week, it's time to unleash some shame.

(03/12/13 10:08pm)

A federal privacy law meant to safeguard student grades, transcripts and disciplinary files continues being misapplied to obstruct public accountability, even where no legitimate privacy interests are at stake. Exhibit A is the University of Oklahoma's stubborn insistence that parking tickets are "confidential education records" under FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.