School Can Keep Lid on Scholarships It Pulled

     (CN) — Alabama State University need not share financial-aid paperwork that would out football players who lost their scholarships, the state Supreme Court ruled.
     Josh Moon, a reporter with the Montgomery Advertiser, initiated the dispute with an April 2015 request for the last four month’s worth of financial-aid forms concerning the ASU football program.
     ASU uses these forms to reflect reductions or cancellations of a student’s athletic financial aid — a change that could stem from disciplinary infractions, poor grades or medical status.
     When Moon learned that ASU planned to redact the forms so heavily that they would essentially be blank, he offered to just “take just the list of names of players whose scholarships have been revoked since December [2014].”
     ASU cited the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) in rejecting Moon’s request, however, prompting a lawsuit by the Advertiser under the Alabama Open Records Act.
     After hearing arguments last summer, the Montgomery Circuit Court sided with the journalists, deeming the forms “public records.”
     The court said ASU could redact any information about the student athlete, except for “the portion of the form showing the date, student name, and sport.”
     Reversing Friday, the Alabama Supreme Court was unanimous that releasing “the redacted financial-aid forms to the Advertiser would nonetheless disclose information that is protected by FERPA.”
     “The presumption of disclosure under the Open Records Act must yield to the protections afforded by FERPA,” Justice Tommy Bryan wrote for the eight-person court.
     Chief Justice Roy Moore did not take part in the case.
     Bryan took care to “commend” the trial court for its efforts but said there is no dispute “that the release of the redacted financial-aid forms is authorized by any other exception in FERPA.”
     The Advertiser failed to sway the court that FERPA classifies the data it sought as “directory information.”
     Such data consists solely of student names and their sports, thus fair game for public examination, according to the decision.
     “Information regarding a student’s financial aid is not ‘directory information’ subject to disclosure under the FERPA; rather, it is the very type of information FERPA was implemented to protect from disclosure,” the 13-page ruling states.
     ASU spokesman Kenneth Mullinax declined to comment on the decision.
     The Montgomery Advertiser could not be reached for comment. Several phone calls Tuesday failed to yield access to a live representative.

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