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Bound to Silence: Why Edgewood College Officials Can’t Tell You More About Sexual Assaults.


Students Protesting


BY SAM HABERLAND | MARCH 30, 2016

In the month that has passed since Edgewood’s judicial board released its verdict on an alleged sexual assault, several key questions remain. One question being asked by many is why haven’t more details of the case been released?

The main reason more details have not been released is because of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), which legally binds Edgewood College to secrecy.  FERPA is ultimately a protection for students. It ensures all information kept in educational records about an individual be kept private from outside viewing.

“FERPA covers all records, especially ones which make a student identifiable,” said Adam Goldstein – attorney for the Student Press Law Center. “Even if the school wants to disclose the information about who was involved, they can’t.”

According to the Department of Education, FERPA records can still be released about an induvial for several reasons: the student in question provides a written letter of consent for the release, teachers or school officials can request release of information for educational purposes to fulfill their professional responsibility, for enrollment purposes at schools the student may be applying for, and for determining eligibility of financial aid. Other exemptions exist, but many such loopholes require a student be informed of the disclosure and be provided with a copy of the document’s released. And, the definitions of what qualifies as a ‘school official,’ and what constitutes as an ‘educational purpose’ must be outlined in the school’s annual notification of FERPA rights.

“Information maintained by the institution [Edgewood], outside the law enforcement office, becomes an education record and is subject to FERPA,” said Michelle Kelley – Edgewood Registrar.  Kelley says that all documents and cases regarding an alleged crime involving students that is dealt with by the college is subject to FERPA.

Goldstein added that, in Edgewood’s case, both FERPA and the Cleary Act bind the college. “Because of FERPA and the Cleary act, the school can release information about the case, but they have to make all information so [that] it does not reveal the identity of the accused student.”

In the case of an alleged violation of FERPA, there are no specific consequences listed, but the Department of Education website says any student who feels their FERPA rights have been violated can file a complaint through their site.

Visit the Department of Education online for more information at: ED.GOV FERPA

No major violations of FERPA have been reported for this specific case, but Kelley said that “during my tenure at Edgewood College, when there has been a violation of FERPA that I have become aware of, I inform the person who violated FERPA of their error and made myself available for any and all questions.  In addition, I use it as an opportunity to share information and remind faculty and staff about the importance of FERPA compliance.”

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