University Must Release Student Disciplinary Records

Article excerpt

Miami University must release records of student disciplinary proceedings to the student newspaper that requested them in 1995, the state Supreme Court in Columbus ruled in early July. The high court decided 4 to 2 that the disciplinary records do not fall within the definition of "education records" protected by federal law and must be disclosed under the state public records act.

At issue in this case is the interpretation and interplay of state and federal law. The Ohio Open Records Act requires that public records be freely available for public inspection. However, there is an exemption for records that are prohibited from being released under other state or federal laws. At apparent odds with the state law is the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which was enacted to protect the privacy of student educational records.

Jennifer Markiewicz, then editor of the Miami Student, the student newspaper at state-supported Miami University in Oxford, sought to compile a database of student crime trends on campus in spring 1995. She requested that the university provide her with records of proceedings held before the University Disciplinary Board (UDB). Her request noted that she was not seeking the names, social security numbers or student I.D. numbers of any students involved in disciplinary proceedings.

Initially, the university denied Markiewicz's request. But in April 1996, after Markiewicz met several times with school officials, the university released edited copies of UDB records. The university not only redacted student names and I.D. numbers, but also withheld the gender and age of those accused as well as the date, time and location of the incidents giving rise to the disciplinary charges. The university claimed that FERPA, also known as the Buckley Amendment, prohibited the disclosure of the redacted information.

FERPA allows the federal government to impose penalties, including the denial of federal funds, on schools that release a student's "education records" without the student's permission. In this case, the university was concerned that it could lose as much as $40 million in federal funding if it released the UDB records.

Markiewicz and her successor editor, Emily Herbert, considered the university's response to be inadequate under the state public records act. They filed suit in their names as well as that of The Miami Student newspaper in the Supreme Court of Ohio to compel release of the records. In Ohio, open records cases can be appealed directly to the Supreme Court after agency denial. …