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When it comes to public records, schools can't hide behind the insurance company

(09/22/11 4:27pm)

Despite all its good intentions, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act has often been misused by schools to deny any number of valid open records requests, leaving a string of court cases to interpret the law. A recent decision out of Arizona ended with a judge ruling a school district couldn’t claim a FERPA exemption on a settlement agreement with a former student who was strip-searched by school officials. The history on that case goes back many years and is well worth delving into, notably the Supreme Court ruling 8-1 that the girl’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: For teaching hospitals, a dose of sunshine is just what the doctor ordered

(10/11/11 4:48pm)

Anyone who spends billions of dollars in taxpayer money needs watching. People who are convinced they are spending the taxpayers' billions doing the Lord's work saving lives need extra-close watching, because they are able to convince themselves that any amount of corner-cutting is justified by the importance of their mission. America's teaching hospitals owe their existence to government subsidies -- directly, to the tune of $10.9 billion a year from Medicare to subsidize medical education, and indirectly, to the largesse of the colleges that host them, receiving everything from free land to subsidized insurance to participation in state retirement plans.

It's April Fools Day on Bizarro Planet -- school administrators turn First Amendment true-believers

(10/17/11 9:27am)

The dictionary defines "chutzpah" as "unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall; audacity; nerve." Mr. Webster, meet the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. While school administrator groups across the country stubbornly resist (and often actively oppose) extending free-speech rights to the students and teachers under their supervision, their brethren in South Carolina yield to no one in their First Amendment zealotry. When it helps them keep secrets from the public. The Association has convinced a state-court judge to exempt it from complying with South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), on the grounds that opening its records to the public would compromise the organization's right to formulate its political positions privately.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: The "open investigation" that never closes, a frustrating FOI loophole

(10/18/11 4:31pm)

A few weeks ago, a vigilant reporter for George Mason University's Broadside newspaper picked up on a one-line entry in a police blotter that turned out to be national news. The blotter wasn't very informative -- a suspect's name, a criminal charge, the location of the jail.

Stripped of access? Iowa court decides there's no right to know how strip-search violators were punished.

(10/21/11 10:52am)

In a split decision, Iowa's Court of Appeals has refused to order a public school to disclose records documenting the disciplinary action imposed on two employees who improperly strip-searched female students to look for stolen money. The case, ACLU Foundation of Iowa, Inc. v.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Are college sports really a cash cow? More like a cash tapeworm.

(10/25/11 12:35pm)

College athletics are perceived as a cash cow, a profit center for Division I schools that justifies the substantial image risk that many schools incur by enrolling "students" of dubious academic merit, and by associating themselves with the sports agents and high-rolling boosters who are drawn to college athletes like flies. The numbers, however, often tell a different story. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that most college athletic programs in Ohio -- with one notable exception: Ohio State -- are not financially self-sustaining from ticket sales, merchandise royalties and other self-generated revenues.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: What a haul -- campus towing contracts can be big (and sometimes dirty) money

(11/01/11 5:13pm)

The recent bribery conviction of a California businessman, found guilty of paying inducements to a campus police chief in exchange for automobile towing referrals, highlights just how much money is at stake in the wrecker business -- and how closely it needs watching. According to trial testimony, Morgan McComas of Pirot Towing in San Jacinto, Calif., gave gifts -- including free rims for a personal pickup truck -- to the then-head of the Mount San Jacinto College Police Department to induce the chief to steer business to the Pirot firm.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Public schools, private profit -- charter school operators must obey state disclosure laws

(11/08/11 7:03pm)

Charter schools may operate in a public/private twilight zone when it comes to obeying state education regulations, but when it comes to open-records and open-meetings laws, these publicly funded entities must be publicly accountable, an Ohio judge's recent ruling reaffirms. In an October 2011 opinion, Ohio Common Pleas Judge John F.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Connecticut court case may be a ticket to greater secrecy for college athletic scandals

(11/22/11 5:49pm)

The formula for Coca-Cola. The recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. The list of people buying tickets for Connecticut Huskies football games. The first two are legally protected trade secrets -- and third one will be, too, if the University of Connecticut gets its way. Connecticut's Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in December in a case testing whether public colleges may refuse to honor open-records requests for the identities of those buying tickets to sporting events. Ordinarily, any document in the possession of a public university must be disclosed on request, unless the university can point to a specific exemption that makes the document confidential.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Document trail reveals how 'green energy' left S.C. college in the red

(11/29/11 6:35pm)

The story of the University of South Carolina's attempts to turn wood chips into too-cheap-to-meter electricity reads like a chapter out of "The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook: Government Contracting Edition." According to detailed accounts published over the past two months in the Columbia, S.C., newspaper, The State: The construction of a $20 million biomass power plant got rolled into a pre-existing contract for electricity, without the competitive bids that would normally have been required for a building of that size. The plant was months late in powering up, in part because that sole-bidder construction company failed to apply for the necessary permits. It only worked about once every five days. Oh, and one time, it exploded. Reporter Wayne Washington's analysis of 1,816 pages of public documents, many of which The State helpfully republished online to accompany his reporting, makes for a compelling narrative.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: A reminder that FERPA privacy of disciplinary records isn't all-or-nothing

(12/13/11 4:03pm)

A New Jersey court ruling released this week reinforces the now-well-established point that the public is entitled to disclosure of records from schools -- even sensitive ones that schools would prefer to classify as confidential -- with minimal edits to remove student names where necessary. In K.L.

Epilogue to Phoebe Prince bullying case: Litigation settlements with school districts are public record

(12/28/11 5:40pm)

A Massachusetts judge's ruling involving the suicide of a teen bullying victim is the latest reaffirmation that school districts cannot lawfully enter into confidential agreements to conceal settlement payments from the public. In a Dec.