By Laurel Deppen, editor-in-chief, College Heights Herald
WKU (Western Kentucky University) will release sexual misconduct records within the next 30 days that were the subject of a years-long lawsuit against the Herald.
Following a Kentucky Supreme Court decision in a similar case involving the University of Kentucky and its student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, WKU decided to release the records. There wasn’t recent legal preceding in the Herald case which led to the move.
Bob Skipper, director of media relations, said Andrea Anderson, general counsel, hoped the release of the records would bring the lawsuit “to resolution.”
“That would end the need for the lawsuit,” Skipper said.
Michael Abate, one of the attorneys representing the Herald, said the newspaper would have the right to contest any information the university would withhold even if the university’s release of the records could mean dropping the lawsuit.
Skipper said WKU is waiting to see if UK will appeal the Court’s decision, but doesn’t believe that would affect the release of the information.
The Herald requested sexual misconduct records in 2016 with student-identifying information redacted from every public university in the state. WKU refused, citing violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. WKU and Kentucky State University were the only universities to not comply with the request.
“This is what we said we would do all along now that we’ve got the guidance from the court system,” Skipper said. “We can release the records without a concern that we would face any kind of blow-back from the federal government through a FERPA violation.”
Abate said his reaction to the records’ release was, “What took them so long?”
“The federal law is very, very clear that even education records can be redacted to maintain the privacy of students,” Abate said. “The notion that [the Kentucky Supreme Court decision] somehow clarified law that was not clear is incredibly disingenuous on the university’s part.”
Abate said it still remains to be seen what redactions the university will make in the release of the documents, but the Court made clear only small, student-identifying information should be redacted. The initial request sought sexual misconduct records between 2011 and 2016. Since the announcement, the Herald has requested the same documents from 2016 to present.
“I’m glad they’re [releasing the documents], but they shouldn’t have put us through four years of expensive and time consuming litigation when all they’re going to end up doing is what every other university did from the very beginning,” Abate said.