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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.

School cellphone searches test boundaries of students' Fourth Amendment rights

(01/30/13 2:12pm)

It's happening at schools across the country: A student is caught misusing a cellphone on campus, and administrators seize the phone and look at everything inside of it. It happened last week at an upstate New York high school, where a 14-year-old boy and his girlfriend are now under criminal investigation after a school principal discovered "inappropriate" photos of the girl while searching the boy's cellphone. Is this legal?

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Loosening the restraints -- how to get information about school "seclusion" tactics

(02/05/13 5:41pm)

Managing unruly kids who lash out at classmates and teachers is one of the most delicate tasks for schools, and those who must manage emergencies when physical safety is at stake understandably resist being second-guessed. But there's evidence that students are at times pinned, tied up or locked away in closet-sized isolation rooms for just being annoying even if they do not present a danger to others. Federal statistics indicate that disabled students and racial minorities are disproportionately likely to be placed under physical restraint, raising questions about whether the safety measures are administered even-handedly. Finding out what techniques your school district uses to respond to assaultive kids -- and how often -- should be a matter of a single public records request.

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.

Reporting on Steubenville rape case a timely reminder on publishing names of juveniles, crime victims

(03/18/13 2:03pm)

In the explosion of media coverage accompanying Sunday's judgment against two teenage Ohio student athletes in the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl, at least one broadcast news outlet aired courtroom footage in which the victim's name was audible.

Google never forgets: Seventh Circuit finds no right to force search engines to block access to embarrassing public records

(03/23/13 3:54pm)

The ability of search engines to dredge up unflattering facts has provoked global debate over whether people should have a legal "right to be forgotten" -- that is, a right to demand that embarrassing personal details be taken offline.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Campus surveillance enters the drone zone

(05/14/13 6:20pm)

Aided by technological advances, government agencies are constantly inventing new ways to collect information -- and it was only a matter of time before "drone surveillance" made it way onto college campuses. Last week's announcement that the University of Alabama-Huntsville had acquired a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles with an eye toward equipping them with police security cameras undoubtedly sent a shiver through public urinators and weed cultivators everywhere.

Proposal to impose state-level penalties for FERPA violations cut from final version of Arizona legislation

(07/03/13 4:51pm)

Arizona's governor has signed into law a bill that sets out steps to take for those who believe a school has “knowingly violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.” The original version of the bill, introduced in the state Senate in February, would have allowed the state's Department of Education to withhold 10 percent of the school's monthly state aid if the problem was not fixed within 60 days.

For-profit Kentucky college sanctioned $126,000 after "meritless" claim of FERPA secrecy

(12/05/13 5:04pm)

Colleges are adept at frivolously crying "student privacy!" to conceal information that might expose institutional wrongdoing, but one Kentucky college is learning that misuse of the federal student confidentiality statute can carry a heavy price. A circuit court judge in Franklin County, Ky., is fining Lexington-based National College $1,000 per day for raising unfounded legal arguments in refusing to obey a subpoena from the state's attorney general, Jack Conway, demanding disclosure of internal college records dealing with marketing, employee compensation, student complaints and other management practices. The attorney general's office is seeking National's records as part of an ongoing lawsuit that alleges National made deceptive advertising claims inflating the successful job-placement rate of its graduates.

Markey-Hatch student privacy proposal fails to fix FERPA foolishness

(05/14/14 12:00pm)

A newly released draft Senate bill addressing concerns over the security of student data is, at best, a swing-and-a-miss at the larger problems afflicting federal privacy law. At worst, it's a damaging setback for the public's right to know.U.S. Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) released draft legislation Wednesday responding to widespread public alarm over a 2011 U.S. Department of Education rule that, in the view of critics, made it easier for schools and colleges to share identifiable student data with researchers.The bill proposes updates to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal student privacy law, but does nothing to address the main problem afflicting FERPA: That its definition of confidential "education records" is grossly over-broad, enabling schools to conceal critical public-safety information or employee wrongdoing on bogus "student privacy" grounds.

University of Oregon students criticize university for using FERPA to ‘frivolously’ avoid answering questions about sexual assault allegations involving athletes

(05/08/14 12:00pm)

The front page of today's Daily Emerald is a powerful one:The issue is a timely one for the University of Oregon student newspaper — this week, it came to light that three basketball players were accused in March of sexually assaulting a woman at an off-campus party and then later at one of the players' apartments. The university and police learned of the allegations in March, and the Daily Emerald and other media have questioned why the players were allowed to continue playing through the end of the season (their suspensions were announced Monday, the same day the district attorney's office announced it did not plan to charge any of the three players).