FERPA v. open records

As the Student Press Law Center is reporting, North Dakota’s attorney general has issued an opinion to say that student records that would otherwise be available under the North Dakota open records laws can’t be withheld because of a federal law — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that disciplines colleges that don’t have policies in place to protect the confidentiality of student records.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was responding to a denial received by the Grand Forks Herald from the University of North Dakota after the paper asked for student-discipline records related to anti-Semitic graffiti incidents in May 2008.

The newspaper wasn’t asking for the names of any students, but for general records. Neverthleless, U-ND feared that because some information was already available about one of the students involved, releasing documents even with names redacted would lead people to make inferences about that student, thus, they believed, violating the student’s privacy and causing problems for U-ND’s compliance with FERPA.

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