U.S. Education Department proposes campus-crime regulations

Tuesday, June 8, 1999

The U.S. Department of Education last week announced proposals to bolster disclosure of records on campus crime and alcohol or drug abuse.

Campus-safety advocates and freedom-of-information experts praise the changes because they will force universities to reveal statistics that paint a truer picture of campus safety. Formerly secret campus proceedings will become more open, they say.

“This will let [students] know if the person sitting next to them in class is someone they have to be wary of,” said Myra Kodner of Campus Safety Inc.

The proposed rulemaking, announced on June 1, comes in response to the federal Higher Education Act of 1998, which extensively revised the way in which universities and colleges report campus crime.

The law, approved by President Clinton on Oct. 7, requires all colleges and universities — public and private — that receive federal funding to maintain daily logs of criminal incidents reported to the police or to security offices.

Campus safety advocates and freedom-of-information experts say the law expands upon the Campus Security Act of 1990 by requiring schools to more fully disclose campus-crime statistics.

The law also forbids schools from using the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), known as the Buckley Amendment, to avoid disclosing the outcome of disciplinary proceedings against students found to have committed a violent crime or non-forcible sex offense.

The Education Department plans to seek public comment on the new regulations through Aug. 2. Comments may be directed to the department's Family Policy Compliance Office.

In part, the new regulations state that prior consent of the student would no longer be required for a school to disclose records to parents of dependent children or to the U.S. Attorney General's Office for law-enforcement purposes.

The new regulations would also allow a school to release disciplinary records of students accused or convicted of a violent or sexual crime.

Kodner said that opening records would prevent students and community members from becoming victims. She also said that opening the disciplinary process would prevent accused students from being railroaded by a secretive judicial process.

“We're not trying to put a scarlet letter on people,” Kodner said. “We're just trying to apply the same standards on campus as we have in other parts of the community.”