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Truck accident report is exempt as an ‘education record’

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  1. Freedom of Information
MICHIGAN--A state appeals court in Lansing concluded in late July that the University of Michigan does not have to disclose…

MICHIGAN–A state appeals court in Lansing concluded in late July that the University of Michigan does not have to disclose a Student- Athlete Automobile Information Sheet concerning a sport-utility vehicle that was involved in a roll-over accident.

The court held that the information sheet was exempt from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act because it falls within the definition of “education records” for purposes of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the Buckley Amendment.

An exemption in the FOI Act allows public bodies to withhold information the release of which would prevent the public body from complying with FERPA, a federal statute that allows the government to withhold funds from schools that release a student’s educational records without the student’s or parents’ consent.

The statute applies only to educational records that “contain information directly related to a student.” However, disclosure of “directory information” including a student’s name and participation in officially recognized activities is explicitly permitted under FERPA.

David Barber, a reporter and talk show host for radio station WFDR-AM in Flint, wrote to the University of Michigan requesting pursuant to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act all writings pertaining “to the possession and use by one Maurice Taylor, a student athlete and scholarship varsity basketball player, . . . of a 1996 Ford Explorer Limited automobile recently involved in a roll over accident in Washtenaw County Michigan.”

After the university refused to disclose the record, the station brought suit arguing that the information sheet contains “directory- type” information, which is not subject to FERPA. The trial court held that the record was exempt and the station appealed. (Connoisseur Communication of Flint v. University of Michigan; Media Counsel: David Leyton, Flint)