Congressman urges colleagues to unseal campus crime records

Tuesday, May 5, 1998

In an attempt to make college campuses safer, a Florida congressman this week will pitch a bill that prohibits school officials from denying public and media access to student disciplinary records showing criminal misconduct.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark A. Foley, R-Fla., the bill would amend a federal privacy law that prohibits schools from releasing student educational records to the public without student or parental consent.

That law, referred to as the Buckley Amendment or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is sometimes used by schools to withhold information about criminal misconduct on campus from public view.

Under Foley's amendment, “educational agencies or institutions would be required to include appropriate information in the education record of any student concerning disciplinary action taken against such student for conduct that posed a significant risk to the safety or well-being of that student, other students or other members of the school community.”

The amendment will allow this information to be disclosed to teachers, school officials, the student body and the general public, supporters say.

“We need legislation so that universities can release the names of students found by disciplinary proceedings to have committed crimes of violence,” Foley wrote in a letter to his colleagues. “While I respect a student's right to privacy, it should be balanced with another student's right to know about serious crime in his or her college community.”

S. Daniel Carter, vice president of a Pennsylvania-based campus violence prevention group called Security On Campus, Inc. said that he is optimistic that lawmakers will support the Foley amendment.

“For too long, image-conscious colleges and universities have been able to hide the criminal misconduct of their students by labeling [the records] as confidential 'education records' under a federal privacy law,” Carter said. “Circumventing local and campus law enforcement, these schools secretly adjudicate allegations of student misconduct as serious as aggravated assault and rape. Often these incidents never show up in crime statistics, and other students are endangered when they have no idea that their fellow students are, in fact, violent criminals.”

Foley's legislative assistant Shawn Gallagher said that the congressman has received some indications that the amendment will be accepted.

“We think this is a step in the right direction,” Gallagher said. “When universities find that violence occurs, that information should no longer be protected as education records.”

The Foley amendment could be considered as early as Wednesday, according to Gallagher. If passed by the House, it will be attached to the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998.