First District Court of Appeal Opinion: Access to the Name of Accuser

By Ed Mitchell, 
Executive Director, 
United Faculty of Florida,

I have attached the Rhea case (Download PDF) from the First DCA, which should assist us when employers redact student names from their statements taken during investigations.

For years, we have argued that student complaints against our members are public records and that members must have access to the name of his/her accuser. While some employers provide these to individuals under investigation, others do not. The First District Court of Appeal has issued an opinion concurring with the position we have taken and most recently asserted in an arbitration decision in Escambia.

After reviewing a number of decisions from other jurisdictions, the court concluded that the email in question, which contained complaints about the instructor, did not constitute a protected, confidential “education record” within the meaning of the Florida law “because it does not contain information directly related to a student. The e-mail focuses primarily on instructor Rhea’s alleged teaching methods and inappropriate conduct and statements in the classroom, and only incidentally relates to the student author or to any other students in the classroom. The fundamental character of the e-mail relates directly to the instructor; the fact that it was authored by a student does not convert it into an “education record.” FERPA was not intended to protect from disclosure such records primarily questioning an instructor’s teaching methods or criticizing the teacher’s classroom demeanor and comments.”

There’s a good discussion about FERPA and language in this order that will be helpful. Typically, employers cite to FERPA as the reason that student names cannot be disclosed. Now we have a Florida case that deals with this issue. The discussion that will be of most assistance begins on page 10 of the Order.