A 28-year-old man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two fellow students at California’s College of the Desert was just released on parole after more than a year in jail. His name and photo have been publicized in the local media, but the college insists it cannot say anything about the case, including whether the man was expelled. “All of our students’ privacy rights continue to be protected by FERPA,” a college official told KMIR-TV News.
Ohh, when you name your school College of the Desert, the headlines just write themselves:
"A sandstorm of stupidity"
"Common sense just a mirage"
"Lawrence of Insania"
Think you can do better? Post your headline and drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your address, and we’ll send you an SPLC T-shirt (while supplies last).
Let’s put the FERPA privacy statute to the side for a second, and let’s envision Jesse Timothy Lara’s next job interview, College Administrator Hallucinatory Edition:
"Well, Mr. Lara, your credentials certainly are impressive — two misdemeanor sexual batteries, one felony attempted battery, a year served in jail, registered sex offender. You have everything we’re looking for here at our company, but there’s just this one little problem. I see in this news article that you were expelled from College of the Desert. Not having looked at your transcript, I never would have known that information except for this pesky news story. I’m afraid there are just some things we can’t overlook, Mr. Lara. Good luck in your promising future career."
So right, protecting felons against the public embarrassment of being expelled clearly was what members of Congress had in mind when they enacted the Federal Educational Rapists’ Protection Act.
Oh wait, you’re saying that’s not what “FERPA” stands for?
Okay then, let’s start over.
There are two possible scenarios here. Scenario One is that College of the Desert did take disciplinary action against Lara. If so, then that outcome plainly is unprotected by FERPA confidentiality, a fact that every college lawyer and administrator in America with middle-school-level reading comprehension (in other words, at least a few of them) must know by now:
Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit an institution of postsecondary education from disclosing the final results of any disciplinary proceeding conducted by such institution against a student who is an alleged perpetrator of any crime of violence … or a nonforcible sex offense, if the institution determines as a result of that disciplinary proceeding that the student committed a violation of the institution’s rules or policies with respect to such crime or offense.
20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g(b)(6)(B)
Option 2 is that the College didn’t bother expelling Lara, perhaps believing it lacked jurisdiction over him once he was enrolled in a different institution (the University of Riverside County Jail — Go Perps!). So that’s plausible — maybe expelling a guy you’re sure is never coming back is overkill. But that — not “student privacy” — is what the College should (and legally could) have said: “We only discipline people if they’re enrolled, and after they leave, we can’t ‘expel’ them anymore.” That — not “student privacy” — would have been a complete, sensible and legally permissible response.
BONUS: If there was any actual FERPA violation here, it occurred when the College put out a statement following Lara’s arrest announcing its intention to expel him. Somehow, the College has convinced itself that announcing plans to expel someone doesn’t violate privacy, but announcing the outcome does. Really, guys? If you’re going to be ignorant, at least have the redeeming virtue of consistency.
Common sense has deserted College of the Desert. Ha, did it again!
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