In a ruling issued Tuesday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals said UNC must release the names of people found responsible for rape, sexual assault or any related acts of sexual misconduct through the University's Honor Court, Committee on Student Conduct or Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.
This ruling comes nearly one month after the case was brought before the court at N.C. Central University in Durham, where attorneys for the University argued disclosing such records would be a violation of federal law.
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The University responded to the ruling with a statement and reasserted their position — protecting the survivors' privacy. They also said they would continue to evaluate their options.
"We are disappointed with the N.C. Court of Appeals decision and are examining all legal options as we review the ruling," Joel Curran, vice-chancellor of University communications, said in the statement. "We firmly believe Judge Baddour made the correct decision last May by recognizing the University’s legal and ethical responsibility under federal law to protect the privacy rights of all students."
Erica Perel, the general manager of the Daily Tar Heel, said she's glad the case is coming to a resolution.
"This information is something that Daily Tar Heel reporters have been seeking for quite a few years, as DTH reporters have reported on sexual assault on UNC’s campus and UNC’s response to those assaults," Perel said. "This will kind of help complete the picture of the true nature of assault on campus."
In September 2016, a coalition of local media outlets — including The Daily Tar Heel, Capitol Broadcasting Company, The Charlotte Observer Publishing Company and the Durham Herald Company — sent a public records request to the University.
In it, they asked for “copies of all public records made or received by (UNC-CH) in connection with a person having been found responsible for rape, sexual assault or any related or lesser included sexual misconduct by (UNC-CH’s) Honor Court, the Committee on Student Conduct, or the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office,” according to the ruling.
The request was denied in October 2016 in a letter signed by Curran. The University asserted the requested records were a violation of The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and were therefore "protected from disclosure," the document states.
The media organizations filed a lawsuit following the University's response. In May 2017, the case was brought before Judge Allen Baddour in Orange County, who decided the federal law that protects student records supersedes any state law that would allow for the release this information.
Tuesday's unanimous decision in the court of appeals reverses that order.
"FERPA does not prohibit the disclosure of the limited information requested by Plaintiffs, except for the dates of offenses," the ruling states. "Defendants must comply with Plaintiffs’ public records request to release the student disciplinary records at issue, as provided above."
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