Release of students’ names may have violated handbook

The names of 13 students who admitted to involvement in the improper removal of a pro-life display were revealed in an online article by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), the national organization behind the DePaul Young Americans for Freedom chapter, which erected the display. Revealing the list of students may be a potential violation of DePaul’s Student Handbook and the federal Family Educational Rights and Protection Act (FERPA).

According to a “Supplemental Investigation Report” dated Jan. 31, 2013, students admitted in person to DePaul’s Public Safety office that they participated in the removal of the pink and blue flag display. “They … had seen anti-abortion posters around campus earlier in the day that they found offensive,” stated the report. “They had an emotional discussion … and they all walked to the quad together. Then they started pulling up all the flags and put them in garbage cans … All stated they realized that their actions were not appropriate.” Kevin Connolly, an investigator for Public Safety, signed the report.

Afterward, the students entered the judicial review process. According to the “Student Rights Within the Judicial Review Process” section of DePaul’s Code of Student Responsibility, students under the judicial review process have “the right to have proceedings and documentation kept confidential,” as stated in item 11. In addition, “All hearings, proceedings and case information are considered confidential except to those who have a legitimate educational interest in them.”

An article was posted to YAF’s website Feb. 5 about the students that included the scanned report, with the names of students listed. YAF program officer for chapter services Kate Edwards, who wrote the article, said YAF was very concerned about insensitivity and intolerant atmosphere on campus towards those who express conservative and pro-life views. According to their website, the Young America’s Foundation is “the principal outreach organization of the conservative movement.”

“The vandals demand respect and sensitivity to their privacy, where was their respect towards the YAF chapter’s views?” said Edwards.

Though she did not reply to a request from the DePaulia regarding a potential violation of the DePaul Student Handbook, Edwards published a tweet on her Twitter feed Feb. 7 that said the article was not in violation of code because “we have a ‘legitimate educational interest.'”

One of the students on the list, who wished to remain anonymous, said the release of the students’ names led to online threats and harassment. In the comments section of the YAF article, some comments included links to the students’ personal information, such as Facebook accounts and email addresses. The student has “lost count” of the threats directed to the group, which describe “bringing us to justice, we should pay.”

One of the comments on the article reads, “In the future, almost every employer will Google applicants’ names. These people are toast unless exonerated by some subsequent process (which is unlikely if they have already admitted guilt). And … they deserve it (if in fact involved – which certainly looks true at this point). They acted like petulant, irresponsible children and will be paying for it for the rest of their lives.” Other comments on a Daily Caller article about the students suggest they “watch an actual abortion up close and personal, then make them bury the fetus.”

The student said the situation has gone from political to personal. “This has not only created an unsafe and intimidating environment on campus, but also violated the students’ right to privacy,” said the student.

The student also expressed a desire to see DePaul take some responsibility for the public release of the names, and said the university has handled the situation terribly. “I believe DePaul is more concerned about their own legal status at the moment,” said the source. “They seem really nervous since the (American Civil Liberties Union), human rights lawyers and women’s organizations are all trying to contact (me), but (I’m) trying to stay quiet.”

According to the anonymous source, the only people who had access to the students’ names outside of Public Safety were the students involved and YAF chairman Kristopher Del Campo, who originally erected the pro-life display. The source said Del Campo has blown the incident out of proportion. “No one would have had access to this document, until the final hearing report,” said the source. “This has completely screwed the judicial review.”

Cindy Lawson, vice president of public relations and communications at DePaul, confirmed that Del Campo received the list of students as per item 7 of the “Student Rights Within the Judicial Review Process” section of DePaul’s Code of Student Responsibility (Item 7 is “the right to have reasonable access to information specific to one’s case”). However, Lawson said she did not know how YAF obtained the list of students. It is also “yet to be determined” if the public posting of the list violates item 11, according to Lawson, and it is not Public Safety policy to publicly release students’ names after the judicial review process.

“We would hope the names would be removed (from the website),” said Lawson. “DePaul is always concerned about our students and the consequences of their actions or actions taken by others.”

The student said posting the list of students might be a violation of the Family Educational Rights Protection Act (FERPA). “FERPA doesn’t cover (Public Safety) records, but it does protect investigative information from others,” said the source. “Meaning, no one other than those involved in an incident, until the final decision is made.”

FERPA “neither requires nor prohibits the disclosure by any educational agency or institution of its law enforcement unit records,” according to its text. However, FERPA does protect students’ educational records. Lawson said DePaul does not consider the posting of the list as a violation of FERPA.

DePaul also defines “legitimate educational interest” as “a term of art in FERPA that dictates when you can share information with other employees within an institution,” according to Lawson.

Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said FERPA gets “very complex” when dealing with private institutions, such as DePaul. On the other hand, students would want to know the names of students who have committed other crimes, such as sexual assault cases. “The odds that there’s an illegality (in YAF posting the names) are probably very low,” said Shibley.

The anonymous student said regardless of whether posting the list violates FERPA, “it has created an unsafe environment based on threats (and) comments we have been receiving, and DePaul is liable for that.”

Del Campo did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.