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The Campanile

FERPA muddles sexual assault case

As the news broke last week  about a Paly student who was allowed to stay on campus despite being convicted of an off-campus sexual assault, many felt confused and frustrated due to a lack of information. Much of the confusion was caused by a partially inaccurate KTVU news report, which misreported on one instance of alleged sexual assault on Paly campus. While the instance on school grounds was consensual, the student was convicted of an off-campus sexual assault.

Despite the potential risk this student may have posed to other students, the District was unable to release information about the student in question due to a law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of students in federally-funded schools by restricting access to educational records that would otherwise be available to the public.

These records include birth and medical records, parental contact information, academic records, attendance records, disciplinary records and other personal information that could identify a student.

Under the law, the records are available to both custodial and non-custodial parents, and the right to view those records transfers to the student when he or she turns 18.

If a student has been confirmed to have oral sex on campus, and is also confirmed to have been convicted of forced oral copulation, then how could the school ever justify keeping this student in school from a moral perspective?

Before FERPA, there was no policy to keep student records private. The law was adopted in 1974 to combat the “growing evidence of the abuse of student records across the nation,” according to the law’s primary advocate, Sen. James Buckley of New York.

However, in light of the recent on-campus sexual assault allegations and off-campus convictions against a Paly student, The Campanile feels compelled to question whether this law — designed to protect students’ privacy and well-being — is actually keeping the majority of students safe.

The student convicted of the offcampus sexual assault remained in school until recently, and no parents or students were ever alerted to his presence on campus. Since various allegations, both on and off campus, have come to light, the student decided to leave Paly.

In contrast to the initial story reported by KTVU, the acts that occurred on campus apear to be fully consensual. Principal Kim Diorio has repeatdly denied any arrest or conviction of the alleged assailant for sexual assult or sexual harrasment on Paly campus. Furthermore, the lawyer for the alleged assailant, Stephanie Rickard, claims that the only crime her client is guilty of is underage sex of a consensual nature. Despite the alleged consensual nature of these acts, the female student filed a restraining order and moved over 100 miles away after the incident.

According to Title IX regulations, there are strict and clearly-outlined procedures that must be followed after a sexual assault complaint.

The laws of  Title IX would dictate that the school thoroughly investigate any sexual assault allegations. Assuming the school followed these procedures, it seems they concluded that the student was not a victim of sexual abuse despite what was initially reported.

While we do not know the details of this specific instance of sexual acts between minors, we do know it was introduced as an accusation of sexual assault. Title IX leaves little to interpretation regarding how schools must handle sexual assault allegations.

We urge you to remember that we can only assume the school acted in accordance with Title IX, but cannot independently confirm it. However, we can confirm that they determined the on-campus sexual incident to be fully consensual.

Another thing which has become increasingly clear according to all reports is that the student was convicted of an off-campus sexual assault. This conviction was not released to the public due to laws involving privacy of minors.

The Campanile believes that FERPA should only protect student information which it was intended to protect, none of which explicitly included instances of sexual assault.

We would like to stress that it is unclear whether or not the school ever knew about the off-campus sexual assault conviction, but if they did then a obvious flaw in logic is present.

If a student has been confirmed to have oral sex on campus, and is also confirmed to have been convicted of forced oral copulation, then how could the school ever justify keeping this student in school from a moral perspective?

Although it is understandable that minors’ rights and privacy should be protected, perpetrators of sexual assault, whether on or off campus, should be put up for consideration for expulsion. Factor in a conviction for underage oral sex on school grounds, and it seems even more likley that FERPA must be to blame.

The Campanile urges its readers to stay open-minded and level-headed during these tumultuous times, and recognizes that no good will come from condemning victims or the administration without knowing the full story. It is likely that their hands were tied by the law when dealing with these issues.

We hope that the student body will continue to think critically about the information they are presented with, and we know that Paly will continue to support victims of sexual harassment or assault.

We hope this editorial gave you more insight into the laws that dictate the aftermath of sexual assault, and implore you to keep these ideas in mind as new information surfaces.

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