Wednesday, April 20, 2011

N.C. judge: Parking tickets issued to state university students aren't education records protected by FERPA

A North Carolina judge on Tuesday ruled that parking tickets issued to UNC athletes are not education records protected by a federal student privacy law, the Student Press Law Center reports.

Why does this matter in Oklahoma?

Because a year ago, officials of Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma refused to release names of ticket recipients, saying disclosure would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

OSU and OU officials argued that the parking citations are not created for law enforcement purposes, which would make them public under FERPA. Instead, the tickets are processed administratively and therefore, officials contended, are education records protected by FERPA.

University of North Carolina officials apparently made the same argument. But the North Carolina judge didn't buy it, saying:

The parking tickets issued by UNC Public Safety, if any, to 11 players are not education records protected by FERPA.

While section 6-3 of Article VI, Parking Control of the UNC Ordinance relating to parking on the campus of UNC permits, after repeated offenses, may result in referral to an appropriate agency for disciplinary action, the receipt of a parking ticket, in and of itself, is not subject to disciplinary action and thus, is not protected educational information under FERPA.

If a parking scofflaw were to reach the repeated, repeated stage and was referred to disciplinary action, such disciplinary action would be covered under FERPA.

However, this remote possibility does not constitute a sufficient "threat" to cloak every student with invisibility about the number of parking tickets he or she receives. Parking tickets are subject to civil not criminal penalties.

UNC will have 30 days to appeal after the judge issues a formal written order, the SPLC said.

SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte said the decision is another indication from courts that "FERPA is to be applied in a common sense manner that recognizes the importance of disclosure and transparency."

"Court after court has told schools that FERPA is not to be applied in an absurd way to conceal information that is not educational and this is yet another affirmation that FERPA can't be abused to conceal newsworthy and non-confidential information," LoMonte said.

Unfortunately, OSU and OU officials aren't likely to release their parking citation information based on anything short of a clarification by the U.S. Department of Education or an Oklahoma court order.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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