Education

Judge rules UNC-Chapel Hill doesn't have to disclose sex assault findings

Posted May 4

— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill doesn't have to release the names of students and employees the school's internal administrative processes determined culpable of sex offenses, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL News, and other media organizations sued under North Carolina's public records laws to obtain the names of people the UNC-Chapel Hill Honor Court, the Committee on Student Conduct or the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office found responsible of rape, sex assault or any other sexual misconduct.

Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour ruled that the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which allows some disclosure of student records in such cases, pre-empts the public records law, which would mandate it in every case. As to employee records, the judge said the State Human Resources Act limits public disclosures about state workers disciplined, demoted or dismissed for disciplinary reasons to the dates and types of actions taken and a copy of the termination letter, which sets out the reason the worker was fired.

"The University has a legal and ethical responsibility to protect the privacy rights and educational records of all 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," UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Chancellor for Communications Joel Curran said in a statement.

UNC-Chapel Hill adopted a new policy for handling sex assaults in 2014 amid a federal investigation into how the school had handled such cases previously. Five women asked the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights in 2013 to look into what they called an atmosphere of sexual violence at the school, where officials under-reported the frequency of sexual assault cases and had created a hostile environment for students reporting assaults.

The updated policy details prohibited conduct, including stalking and gender-based harassment, provides resources for victims and outlines the adjudication process. Students are no longer allowed to serve on grievance panels that hear sex assault cases, and all students are required to take an online sexual violence and harassment training course.

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