The Daily Tar Heel receives public records ruling

Baddour, a Superior Court judge in Wake and Orange County, stated that federal law overrides state law in protecting student records. Baddour also ruled on the State Human Resources Act that employees are protected from having their information released to the public.

The Daily Tar Heel filed the lawsuit on behalf of itself, the Capital Broadcasting Company, the Charlotte Observer Publishing Company and The Durham Herald Company against UNC to obtain access to public records concerning sexual assault cases on campus on Sept. 30. UNC denied the request.

Betsy O’Donovan, the executive director at The Daily Tar Heel, said there is interest in the Chapel Hill community to understand who is found guilty of sexual assault and what the process is like when someone is found responsible.

“We have no way of meaningfully watchdogging this process which is a matter of public safety and a matter of justice,” she said.

Joel Curran, the UNC vice chancellor of communications, said in a statement that the University has the right to protect the privacy and educational records of its students.

“The ruling allows us to continue to uphold that responsibility and protects the identity of the reporting parties who put their trust in the University’s process,” Curran said in the statement. “Our position is directed by federal privacy law (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA) and informed by the experiences of reporting parties, witnesses, investigators, and counselors.”

O’Donovan said she was pursuing clarity on what would require UNC to provide public records.

John Drescher, the executive editor of The News & Observer, said in a statement The News & Observer supports its media colleagues to provide public records.

“Not releasing those names mean students don’t know if another student has been found to have engaged in sexual misconduct,” Drescher said in the statement. “If the student transfers to another school, students at the other school would not know that another student has been found to have engaged in sexual misconduct.”

O’Donovan said she is in a strong coalition that sees the value to make an appeal.

“We’re having that conversation with our coalition right now. I would be very surprised if we did not pursue this to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.”

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