Withholding Student Records
Defendant The Kernel Press (The Kernel), the student-run newspaper of Plaintiff University of Kentucky (UK), requested from UK copies of all records detailing a professor’s resignation within the context of a sexual assault complaint filed by two students. UK refused to disclose records containing personally identifiable student information under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), reasoning that disclosure would be an invasion of the students’ personal privacy. The Kernel appealed to the Kentucky Attorney General, who ordered UK to disclose the records with student identifiers redacted. UK appealed to Kentucky circuit court.
The Court found that while FERPA generally permits disclosure of employment records directly related to an employee in their employment capacity, these records also directly related to the students, making them educational records protected by FERPA. As such, the Court found them exempt from disclosure under the Kentucky Open Records Act. The Court also held that the records could not be disclosed in redacted form because redaction would not offer adequate protection, as details in the records would make it easy for one to identify the students with reasonable certainty.
Although not binding in Illinois, this case reminds public bodies that investigative documents regarding an employee may also be educational records under FERPA if the records also directly relate to a student. Additionally, educational records that cannot reasonably be redacted to support a student’s privacy rights do not need to be released.
Cassandra Black, IASB Law Clerk