I really think that SCOTUS is going to need to hear at least one FERPA case and rule on whether the federal law protecting the privacy of education records trumps states’ open records laws if the state accepts federal education dollars.
In Oklahoma, we saw the state’s education department deciding that they could accept federal funding with FERPA strings attached but still disclose personally identifiable info under their open records law. Now in Iowa, that state’s supreme court has reached an almost opposite conclusion. The Associated Press reports:
The University of Iowa can conceal hundreds of pages of records related to its widely criticized handling of a 2007 sexual assault incident involving two football players, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.
In a 4-3 decision that took nearly two years to reach, the court agreed with the university that it can withhold the records requested by the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper. Otherwise, the school would face the possibility of violating the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act and, if sanctioned, could lose millions in federal funds, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote for the majority, in a first-of-its-kind ruling in Iowa.
Read more on The Washington Post.
If you’re a free press advocate, you probably loved Oklahoma and hated Iowa. If you’re a privacy advocate, you probably hated Oklahoma and felt a sense of dismay over Iowa because of the nature of the requested records that were a matter of public concern, while feeling some relief that a court issued a strong statement on protecting education records.
Given that FERPA was just amended in 2009 and 2011, I doubt Congress is willing to go back to the drawing board on this law, but it really needs re-visiting to remove ambiguities that are leading to wildly varying understanding and decisions.
This post was edited to add 2011 to the last updates for FERPA. Thanks to the reader who pointed out my omission.