The Education Department, reacting to a series of stories by the Columbus Dispatch, has launched an examination into wide-ranging interpretations by colleges of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly called FERPA.
Former U.S. Senator James Buckley authored the act in 1974 to shield students' report cards and transcripts from public view. But, as the Dispatch reported, the use of FERPA has extended far beyond the classroom.
College routinely cite FERPA to keep secret names of athletes who have gambled, accepted payoffs, cheated, cashed in on their notoriety and even sexually abused others. Names of coaches who broke recruiting rules or committed academic fraud and even rogue boosters have also been kept private. In one case, FERPA was even extended to an ESPN broadcaster named in school records.
"That's not what we intended," Buckley, 86, said. "The law needs to be revamped. Institutions are putting their own meaning into the law."
Paul Gammill, who leads the Education Department office that monitors FERPA compliance, plans to talk with Buckley next month.
Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray is also pushing for an overhaul of the act.
"When an individual happens to be a student but the record is about committing a crime or getting paid [by a booster], I don't think it's appropriate to shield information," Cordray said.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, an organization that advocates government transparency, is also calling for reform.
"In this economy, public scrutiny and accountability in education are more important than ever," LoMonte said. "People expect and deserve reliable, real-time information about how their money is being spent."