Monday, February 21, 2011

Open-records request trumped by federal law

An attempt by The Northerner, the student newspaper of Northern Kentucky University, to monitor student grant applications ran afoul of a federal law relating to student privacy, according to an opinion of the Kentucky attorney general's office issued Feb. 15.

Jesse Call, a reporter for the newspaper, sought to examine grant applications submitted to the Student Government Association. But the university denied the request, citing student privacy requirements under federal law. Even though the grant applications were submitted to the student government, the university argued the association administers the grant program under the "direction and guidance" of the NKU Division of Student Affairs and that the records contain personal information of the students.

After the attorney general's office inspected the grant application, it agreed with the university's position, saying there is a substantial public interest in ensuring that student government fairly awards the Scott Wurster Book/Special Needs Grants, but "We concur with NKU in its stated position that the broadly worded definition of 'education records'" in the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act "extends to applications submitted by individual students for the grants."

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