Update (Nov. 5, 2020): The Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion on Nov. 5 affirming the decision of the Second District Court of Appeals that the Ohio Student Privacy Act prohibits disclosures about a deceased adult former student in response to a public records request.
The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of a media coalition in CNN v. Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools. The appeal follows a denial of the coalition’s request for a writ of mandamus ordering the release of certain high school records relating to Connor Betts, the deceased gunman from the August 4, 2019 mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. In denying the coalition’s request, the Court of Appeals for the Greene County Second Appellate District held that the Ohio Student Privacy Act prohibited releasing the records without Betts’ consent. The Reporters Committee’s brief argues that the court failed to properly interpret the Student Privacy Act in accordance with longstanding common law principles that an individual’s right to privacy terminates upon death. The brief also details the public benefit served when news organizations are able to report on the school disciplinary records of mass shooters and argues that the court’s restrictive interpretation of the Student Privacy Act undermines public policy and runs contrary to the principles of openness embodied in the Ohio Public Records Act.