Bruce Vielmetti (a cousin) writes about a FOIA case in Wisconsin
UWM paper sues school for records
Minutes, recordings heavily redacted, suit says
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's student newspaper has sued the university and one of its officials to gain access to records of public meetings that UWM officials have refused to release.
The UWM Post and Jonathan Anderson, editor in chief at the time the records were requested earlier this year, say UWM's heavy redacting of minutes and audio recordings of the meetings violates Wisconsin's open records law.
They seek the full records and reimbursement of legal fees. The Post and Anderson are represented by lawyers from the Godfrey & Kahn law firm.
At issue is recordings of students during a meeting; UW-Milwaukee redacted this information, arguing that under FERPA they were obliged to protect student records. Here's the SPJ's "Quill" magazine describing the issue
Jonathan Anderson, a senior at the UW-Milwaukee, applied what he learned in the classroom to his job as editor-in-chief of The UWM Post, the school’s weekly student newspaper. But he didn’t expect that requesting the minutes and audio recordings of a public meeting would result in a battle against the university.
In his mind, if the meeting of the Union Policy Board, made up of students and university employees, was public, then shouldn’t the record of the meeting also be public?The university disagreed, citing FERPA. Releasing the full minutes and audio recordings could compromise student privacy, university officials argued.
Amy Watson, UW-Milwaukee’s public records custodian, says that such redactions are necessary because an education record is broadly defined under FERPA.
“Basically anything that directly relates to a student and is created or maintained by the university would fit FERPA's definition of an education record,” said Watson. “However, the statute does provide exceptions to that definition, such as personal or 'sole possession' notes and records that are created and maintained by a law enforcement unit for the purpose of law enforcement.”
Watson told the Post that while she has had to deny the release of records because of FERPA, she understands the frustration it can cause. She said the university is just complying with what FERPA requires.
“I think it’s obviously a law protecting student privacy that I think is good and necessary. I just think the frustration comes in because the definition of an education record, according to FERPA, is incredibly broad,” said Watson.
The only other background I was able to find about the conflict between FERPA and FOIA is this letter from 2003, which notified the State of Michigan that state FOIA laws were overruled by federal FERPA laws regarding the release of student disciplinary information. More from the Family Policy Compliance Office.