House approves release of information on student criminals

Friday, May 8, 1998

The names of college students who commit violent crimes would be released by universities as public records under a measure passed unanimously by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark A. Foley, R-Fla., the bill amends the Buckley Amendment (also known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), a federal privacy law that prohibits schools from releasing student educational records to the public without student or parental consent.

“Why should a student criminal, convicted of a crime on campus, be afforded privacy when the arrest and conviction of anyone off-campus is public record?” Foley asked. ” … More to the point, though … Why should campus communities, and those that surround them, be left in the dark about crimes occurring in their neighborhood?”

Foley offered his amendment in conjunction with House consideration of the Higher Education Act. The measure mustered support from media groups and victims' rights advocates.

An attorney with the Student Press Law Center said, “We're very pleased. This a definitely a step in the right direction.”

“It's part of what we've all been working for for a very long time,” said Mike Hiestand. “And as long as the language remains reasonably intact, it will once and for all prevent school officials from hiding behind a federal law that allows them to withhold information.”

S. Daniel Carter, vice president of a Pennsylvania-based campus violence prevention group called Security On Campus, Inc., supported the Foley Amendment. Carter said he believes the measure will discourage “image-conscious administrators” from restricting access to the names of adult college students found to have committed crimes of violence.

Foley's legislative assistant Shawn Gallagher said: “Campus colleges should not be insulated environments that protect the identity of violent offenders because they happen to be students of that college.”

“It's time for universities to start protecting innocent, law-abiding students instead of their campus's reputation,” Foley said in a statement.

Foley's amendment is based on efforts begun last year after the congressman was contacted by a constituent whose child was assaulted on campus by a known campus criminal contacted.

The Senate is also expected to draft its own version of the Higher Education Act. The two versions will then be incorporated into one piece of legislation by a conference committee composed of several members of both the House and Senate.