Monday, November 16, 2009

U. Wisc. Needs FERPA Guide to Navigate Student Paper Flap

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Student journalists at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee Post have sued the university for allegedly violating the state's public records law (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.31-19.39).

The suit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court involves the university's refusal to identify a student whose voice was recorded at a public committee meeting in reliance on the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA") [20 U.S.C. sec.1232g; 34 C.F.R. Pt. 99], commonly known as the Buckley Amendment.  The school declined to provide Post staff with minutes, audio recordings or agendas of the Union Policy Board, the policy arm of the UWM Student Union, although the board's meetings are open to the public.

In the past, the college's administration has cited FERPA as the basis for its refusal to provide to the Post the identity of school employees who sit on student disciplinary hearing panels or taxpayer-funded university-related travel records of student government officers. Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center ("SPLC") criticized UWM for not using common sense in pursuing a stringent, literal interpretation of FERPA.

The Buckley Amendment is intended to protect the privacy of student education records, such as grades, rather than a public body such as the Union Policy Board, even though it is comprised of students.

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