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Appeals Court Vacates Decision in University of Illinois FERPA Case

May 29, 2012

 

​The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has sent The Chicago Tribune’s case against the University of Illinois (UI) back to the federal district court, vacating the district court’s judgment and directing it to dismiss the case.

This ruling voids the lower court’s decision that the release of student records requested by the Tribune would not violate federal privacy laws.

ACE submitted an amicus brief in 2011 in the case, Chicago Tribune Company vs. University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

The lawsuit is part of the dispute over a student records request stemming from the Tribune’s 2009 series of articles, “Clout Goes to College.” The series looked into a list of applicants kept by the university that included the relatives of certain influential individuals.

The university denied the Tribune's request, made under state open records law, saying the records were protected by the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and thus exempt from the state law.

The federal district court ruled for the Tribune, but the Seventh Circuit ruled that the federal court did not have jurisdiction at all in the case.

Because the Seventh Circuit did not rule on the merits of the case, it offered no clear guidance for institutions faced with a conflict between state open records laws and FERPA requirements. The ruling maintains the protections of the records of the public university, leaving the issue to be resolved in the state courts, where the Tribune still can pursue release of the university's records.

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