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Supreme Court of Ohio Rules in Favor of Ohio State in Student Records Case

June 20, 2012

 

The Supreme Court of Ohio issued a ruling yesterday in favor of The Ohio State University (OSU) in its quest to protect student privacy in dealing with a request for information from ESPN.

The court said unanimously that, for the most part, OSU properly shielded student records covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. ACE submitted an amicus brief to the court in support of OSU, saying that in response to ESPN’s many requests for information, the university carefully complied both with FERPA and Ohio’s public records law by releasing some information but protecting other records.

The case stemmed from reports in 2010 about OSU football players trading memorabilia for tattoos. These trades were in violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules and ultimately led to the resignation of OSU’s football coach, sweeping sanctions against the team and a flood of information requests under Ohio’s public records law.

ESPN submitted multiple records requests to OSU, and the university released much of the information sought by the sports network. However, the institution denied some requests because they would have forced OSU to reveal private student information in violation of FERPA. ESPN responded by asking the Supreme Court of Ohio to force the university to divulge the student information.

In the yesterday’s decision, the court pointed out that the university annually receives about 23 percent of its total operating dollars (more than $919 million) from federal funds, and therefore was “prohibited by FERPA from systematically releasing education records without parental consent.” The court also rejected ESPN’s argument that OSU improperly shielded some records under the guise of attorney-client privilege.

“This decision underscores the importance of protecting student privacy and recognizes the care OSU took in responding to information requests while also adhering to the provisions of FERPA,” said Ada Meloy, ACE’s general counsel.

The court did order OSU to turn over some documents that were responsive to ESPN’s request but protected by FERPA, noting that after redacting all personally identifiable information from the documents, they would no longer be protected.

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