Statement from LeRoy Rooker Regarding Miami Decision
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Protection of Education Records
On June 27, 2002, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously affirmed a lower court's ruling that university disciplinary records are "education records" under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and that disclosing such records without students' consent constitutes a violation of FERPA. "We have believed all along that disciplinary records are protected by FERPA," said LeRoy Rooker, director of the Education Department's Family Policy Compliance Office which administers the act.
As background, in 1998, the U.S. Department of Education asked a federal district court in Columbus, Ohio to enjoin Miami University and the Ohio State University from disclosing records containing the names of student victims and accused students as prohibited under FERPA. In a complaint filed by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of the Department, the government sought enforcement of FERPA. The Department argued that FERPA prohibits educational agencies and institutions from disclosing names and other personally identifiable information from student education records, except in statutorily authorized circumstances. On March 20, 2000, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio permanently enjoined the two Ohio universities from disclosing their on-campus disciplinary records to the public.
The Sixth Circuit concluded today that continued release of student disciplinary records "will irreparably harm the United States and the [Department of Education]." This decision is important for three reasons. First, the court agreed with the lower court that the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act provide parents and students with statistical information about the type and amount of crimes on campus. Second, the court reaffirmed the Department's broad reading of the term "education records," and stated that Congress, in amending FERPA in 1998 to allow postsecondary institutions to disclose the final results of disciplinary proceedings, must have intended that disciplinary records be education records or this amendment would be "superfluous."
Third, the court also held that the Department was within its right in seeking an injunctive relief in this case because none of the administrative remedies authorized by FERPA would have stopped the violations. In effect, the court held that the Department can take preemptive actions in enforcing FERPA, rather than only after violations occur. In the court's own words, "once personally identifiable information has been made public, the harm cannot be undone."