The state’s two largest universities are abusing a federal academic records privacy law with their claims that student parking citations aren’t public records, according to open records attorneys.
Officials at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University said parking tickets issued to students fall under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that requires schools to keep secret students’ education records. Mike Minnis, an Oklahoma City attorney who often handles open records cases, said the universities are abusing an exception that is often overused. "It is directed at academic records,” Minnis said. "It is not directed at other records such as law enforcement records. FERPA is kind of a catch-all that universities will use when they don’t want people to know what they are doing.” OU General Counsel Anil Golahalli said all records that include a student’s name are secret under the law. OSU attorney Doug Price gave a similar justification for keeping the records secret when a student reporter for the school’s Daily O’Collegian newspaper recently requested names of those who were issued parking citations on campus. "We are governed not by commentators in the press,” Golahalli said. "We are governed by the Department of Education and how it interprets FERPA.” In fact, the courts ultimately determine the meaning of the law. A Maryland appellate court ruled in 1997 that it does not apply to parking citations and that the law was intended to keep secret aspects of a student’s academic status. "Prohibiting disclosure of any document containing a student’s name would allow universities to operate in secret, which would be contrary to one of the policies behind the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” the court said. Officials from both universities said their parking citations are administrative records, not law enforcement records.