Many students signed their name at the end of their comment or wrote that they would like to be contacted for further comment. Those names were redacted as well.
Board of Trustees chairman Lowry Caudill and assistant secretary Dwayne Pinkney said the board did not request the names be redacted.
Regina Stabile, director for institutional records and reporting compliance at UNC, said the comments included “education records” as defined by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Educational records include grades, transcripts, class lists, student course schedules, health records, financial information and student discipline files.
By considering student comments an educational record, the public records office is making a distinction between student comments and comments made by other people. It is unclear if the Board of Trustees or UNC will use the 212 comments made by students any differently than other comments.
Jonathan Jones, director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, said FERPA does not cover student comments made to the Board of Trustees.
“This is another example of the continued abuse of FERPA by universities in general and by UNC in particular,” Jones said.
Jones said the names and email addresses of students are considered “directory information,” which is not protected under FERPA.
“There is simply no way this is an educational record,” he said. “It’s not at all a part of this student’s academic or disciplinary history. You can understand why they may want to claim something is not a public record when there’s embarrassing information in it, but there’s nothing embarrassing about this, and it doesn’t warrant special privacy rights under the law.”
Frank LoMonte, executive director for the Student Press Law Center, said comments to the Board of Trustees cannot be FERPA education records unless they are specifically appealing academic decisions.
“When you are acting in your citizen capacity and not your student capacity, records that you create are not FERPA education records,” LoMonte said.
“The way we know this for sure is if a student showed up at the registrar’s office and asked to inspect her FERPA records, nobody would say, ‘Hang on while we contact the Board of Trustees to see if you’ve sent them any emails.’ If the records would not be produced to a student who makes a request to inspect her FERPA records, then they cannot be classified as FERPA records for purposes of concealment.”