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Vermont newspaper loses bid to access student discipline files

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Vermont newspaper loses bid to access student discipline files

  • The Supreme Court cites a non-stated student records exception in state’s Public Records Act to deny access to the records.

Sep. 10, 2003 — The Vermont Supreme Court ruled Friday that a newspaper could not access the disciplinary files of students enrolled in the state college system.

The (St Johnsbury) Caledonian-Record first took legal action in December 1999, after Lyndon State College officials denied the newspaper access to the disciplinary files of students arrested at an off-campus party. The paper also sought access to future student disciplinary hearings, per the state’s Open Meeting Law. A Superior Court judge denied both requests, which the Record appealed.

In the Supreme Court’s Sept. 5 ruling, Judge Marilyn Skoglund wrote that “although the Public Records Act does not define ‘student records,’ the language of the exception is broad and unqualified” in covering those files. Moreover, the court ruled, “the Open Meeting Law cannot be construed to make public any records that are specifically made confidential by the laws . . . of this state.”

“We’re very gratified,” said Judith Beaupre, a spokeswoman for Lyndon State. “Our intent has always been to protect our students’ right to privacy.”

The court did, however, order future disclosure of any final disciplinary action taken against a student accused of a violent crime or “non-forcible sex offense.”

Record Managing Editor Ellie Dixon said the newspaper was “bruised but not broken,” and was exploring whether to ask the court to reconsider its decision.

“We owe it to the community to report on what’s happening at the college, and this ruling certainly hampers those efforts,” she said.

(Caledonian-Record Publishing Co. v. Vermont State Colleges; Media Counsel: Peter White, White & White, Montpelier) MC


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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