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A Decision Concerning Federal Student Privacy Laws Could Impact Falsely Accused

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | May 11, 2018 | 0 Comments

Title IX has become a controversial emblem on American college and university campuses. The federal gender-equity law's mandated obligation for schools to handle sexual misconduct allegations has been the source of many complex issues. Many of which include the depravity of due process rights of unfairly accused student respondents. Now, the names of students found “responsible” of a Title IX violation in equivocal campus courts may be disclosed if a judicial ruling in North Carolina is upheld.

The University of North Carolina was recently ordered by a state appellate court to reveal the identities of students and faculty members it had judged responsible for sexual assault and sexual harassment since January 1, 2017. This judgment comes in the aftermath of a lengthy lawsuit prompted by student editors who were rejected in their efforts to request public records containing this detailed information.

In this contentious legal battle, the university argued that FERPA provides colleges with wide discretion to determine whether the information should be released. The college's attorneys also argued that disclosing the identities of those it has determined to violate Title IX policy could unintentionally reveal the identity of victims, minimize the sense of trust that scarcely remains in campus judicial systems, and otherwise, discourage victims from coming forward. While student editors claim that in this circumstance and many others, the positive effects of disclosure will outweigh the negative. And that the information is public record, and therefore should be accessible.

After hearing compelling arguments on both sides, Appellate Judge John Tyson ruled in favor of the students, concluding that FERPA does not explicitly or implicitly grant educational institutions absolute discretion to make this decision. The university has decided to appeal this decision further.

It would be naive to assume this decision will be an isolated incident if upheld. If the privacy concerns of other students in colleges are challenged, we may see more rulings pan out like this one in the future, or witness that it's used a blueprint for less restricted disclosure regulations. Fortunately, with this outing of “responsible” students comes consideration for the falsely accused in a system that is keen on proving them guilty.

American colleges are simply unprepared and ill-equipped where sexual misconduct is concerned. Panels composed of students and administrators are appointed the intricate task of navigating allegations of rape and sexual assault without forensic evidence, trauma training, investigative prowess, or the right to cross-examine witnesses. Largely, panels are making crucial decisions in the midst of a he-said, she-said debacle.

The result of these ineffectual replicas of actual trials is the innocent is deemed “responsible,” and those who actually are guilty of these serious offenses are slapped on the wrist. The release of public records in more schools could have a potential silver lining, as the wrongfully accused has the incentive to clear their names in an actual courtroom. Until more schools are pressured to release this information, we'll just have to wait and see.

Title IX Advisor Helping Clients Nationwide

If you've been accused of committing a Title IX violation at your school, you need the help of an experienced student defense attorney. National Title IX attorney Joseph D. Lento has the skills and expertise to help you prevail in your school proceedings. Contact him today for help.

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Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience passionately fighting for the futures of his clients. Mr. Lento represents students and others in disciplinary cases and other proceedings at universities and colleges across the United States while concurrently fighting in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, and New Jersey. Mr. Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand universities and colleges across the United States. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide.

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