OSU: Privacy Law Prevented Disclosing Sexual Assault Allegations To Police

Tuesday, December 11th 2012, 7:30 pm

By: News On 6

Oklahoma State University is defending how it handled sexual assault allegations involving fraternity members by citing a federal law meant to protect students' privacy.

The school handled the allegations internally and told police 18 days after it was made aware of them.

OSU said it could not notify police about alleged sexual assaults on campus because of a federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). But there are exceptions to that law.

OSU said it took the numerous sexual assault allegations involving FarmHouse Fraternity members very seriously. But school officials say they couldn't relay that information to police.

"Since no minors were involved, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, OSU could not release the names of any victim or witness without their consent," said OSU spokesman Gary Shutt.

12/10/2012 Related Story: OSU FarmHouse Fraternity Rocked By Sexual Assault Allegations

OSU said it encouraged the alleged victims to call police, but the students chose not to at that time.

OSU said it met with the first of the five alleged victims on November 12, and the student conduct hearings were completed on November 30. All parties were notified of the hearing results on December 3, and they had until December 11 to appeal, after which the university could make the results public.

FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student records. The lead attorney at the Student Press Law Center said this is one of the worst abuses of FERPA he's ever seen.

"It's complete hogwash that FERPA somehow is an obstacle to a college telling their own police department that they suspect crimes have been committed," said Frank LoMonte.

LoMonte said the possibility of a sexual predator on campus should have been enough to involve the police and to notify the campus community of such a threat.

"It's definitely giving you a sense of déja vù all over again with Penn State," LoMonte said.

FERPA applies to schools that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education.

We asked the United States Department of Education for clarification.

"FERPA permits school officials to disclose personally identifiable information... in connection with an "emergency," if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or others. Typically, law enforcement officials ... are the types of appropriate parties to whom information may be disclosed," said USDE spokesman Jim Bradshaw.

The University said it found a male student responsible for four violations of sexual misconduct.

He was suspended for three years and ordered not to contact the alleged victims.

OSU identified the student, but we aren't releasing his name since he hasn't been arrested or charged.

After nearly three weeks of hearings, the University said some students did contact police and OSU's own police department started interviewing students Tuesday.

Tahlequah Police confirmed that they and Stillwater Police are conducting a joint investigation into the matter.


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