by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court and ordered UNC-Chapel Hill to release records related to sex offenses involving students.
The student-run Daily Tar Heel, Capitol Broadcasting, Charlotte Observer, and Durham Herald-Sun had sued Chancellor Carol Folt and her top public records custodian to win access to the records. A trial judge had sided with the media outlets in cases involving UNC employees, but it had allowed the university to block access to records involving students.
At issue in the case: whether the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act blocked application of the state Public Records Act.
Writing for the court, Judge John Tyson concludes: “The Public Records Act requires UNC-CH, a public agency to comply with Plaintiffs’ public records request. FERPA does not prohibit the disclosure of the limited information requested by Plaintiffs, except for the dates of offenses. No indication from the text of [FERPA] or within its legislative history supports Defendants’ assertion that Congress intended to occupy the field of educational records to such an extent that FERPA pre-empts state public records laws with respect to public educational records that are expressly exempted from FERPA’s protections.”