|NMU||ARKANSAS||Freedom of Information||Mar 1, 2001|
University officials ordered to release disciplinary records
- The Arkansas attorney general ruled that because the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act does not protect students’ disciplinary records as scholastic records they are not exempt from disclosure under the state’s FOI Act.
The Arkansas attorney general told Arkansas State University officials Feb. 20 that students’ disciplinary records are not considered scholastic records and must be disclosed under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
The university denied a Feb. 5 request from the university’s newspaper, The Herald, to release two students’ disciplinary records. University officials sought state attorney general Mark Pryor’s opinion as to whether the records were considered scholastic records, which are exempt under the Arkansas open records law.
Pryor acknowledged that the FOI Act does not define the term “scholastic record,” but cited a state Supreme Court case that ruled the exemption was limited to individual education or academic records and did not include records concerning the amount of money paid to student athletes.
“I conclude that because the scope of the exemption for ‘scholastic records’ under the FOIA is not entirely clear, it should be narrowly construed in a manner that favors disclosure,” Pryor said in his opinion.
University officials cited a federal law concerning releasing students’ records as the reason they withheld the disciplinary records.
“We have assumed these records were covered under [the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] and observed what we thought was the law,” University President Les Wyatt told The Herald during an interview. “This is just a matter of interpretation of what appeared to be policy, and we don’t have any problem releasing [the records] now.”
FERPA, more commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, provides that a school risks losing federal funding if it releases a student’s educational records without the student’s consent. In 1998, the U.S. Congress amended FERPA to say that records created or maintained by a law enforcement unit of the educational institution are not covered under the FERPA exemption.
The university notified the two students that their records would be released to give them time to seek an injunction against disclosure.
(Opinion No. 2001-046, Feb. 20, 2001) — EH
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press