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UPDATE: District Attorney Hides Behind FERPA In Oregon Sexual-Assault Case

In another sign that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a godsend to university and public officials in the midst of damage control, the Lane County District Attorney’s Office rejected an appeal by news organizations for records related to University of Oregon basketball players accused of sexual assault.

The College Fix previously noted administration and athletic officials were citing FERPA even though the news organizations’ request was for “emails, text messages or electronic or print records written or received” by those officials themselves, not the basketball players, who were all expelled but never formally charged.

The Eugene Register-Guard, one of the organizations seeking records, reports:

FERPA allows the UO to withhold any record “that identifies the individual students with any certainty,” the [DA] opinion stated. Such records are “education records” covered by the federal law, the opinion said. … 

The newspapers argued that the public is entitled to learn what the UO officials knew about the alleged assaults and when they knew it.

In agreeing with the university, the District Attorney’s Office cited a 2011 state Department of Justice ruling that UO records related to allegations of improper benefits received by UO men’s basketball players, and any UO investigations into those allegations, were exempt from disclosure under FERPA because the records would have identified specific students.

The next legal step for the newspaper will be a lawsuit in Lane County Circuit Court, said Wendy Baker, the newspaper’s general counsel.

h/t Student Press Law Center

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

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