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Trial court orders release of hazing investigation records

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    NMU         VERMONT         Freedom of Information         Dec 21, 1999    

Trial court orders release of hazing investigation records

  • The University of Vermont has been ordered to release information related to allegations of hazing on the men’s hockey team because that information, even if considered a student record, concerns campus crime.

A state trial court in mid-December ordered the release of University of Vermont investigative reports regarding alleged hazing on the men’s ice hockey team.

While release of some of the reports would invade students’ privacy and, therefore, would violate the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, the same law requires the release of information concerning on-campus crimes and sexual assaults, Washington Superior Court Judge Alden Bryan ruled Dec. 15.

In fall 1999, allegations of hazing on the hockey team began to surface, and in October the attorney for one of the players filed a formal complaint with the school. The university hired a Burlington attorney to conduct an investigation into the allegations. In early December, a different player filed suit in federal District Court in Burlington.

In November, the Burlington Free Press requested information about the allegations and the university’s response to them, but the university refused to release the information, citing exemptions to the open-records act that protect student records, confidential attorney-client communications and work product. With its requests denied, the newspaper filed suit in state court.

In ruling that some of the documents must be made public, Bryan wrote, “Those to be disclosed reveal little about the students themselves but largely detail the actions UVM has taken since the student’s lawyer . . . made her initial complaint to UVM officials.”

Many details of the alleged hazing and the university’s response already were public, because of daily news reports and the lawsuit filed in federal court, so release of that information would not further violate students’ privacy rights, Bryan wrote.

Records containing student interviews taken by the law firm investigating the allegations for the university are student records and, therefore, not public, wrote Bryan. Those documents, when released, must be redacted to protect the privacy of students mentioned in them.

(Burlington Free Press v. University of Vermont)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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