Valdosta Daily Times

State News

October 3, 2012

Law changes could close student discipline records

ATLANTA — Changes to Georgia’s open government laws may have an unintended consequence at the state’s universities if student disciplinary hearings are no longer open to the public.

The Red & Black, an independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia, recently requested records from student conduct hearings.

UGA cited the new state law in denying the newspaper access to the records, Red & Black Publisher Harry Montevideo told The Associated Press. The university denied at least two records requests filed since July, said the paper’s editorial adviser, Ed Morales.

Lawyers for UGA and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens are now trying to determine whether the new law allows the school to close student disciplinary hearings, according to The Fulton County Daily Report. Such hearings have been open to the public since 1993.

“We have made no final decisions and are consulting with the AG on the proper course of action on all the open meetings issues,” Arthur Leed, UGA’s associate director of legal affairs, said in an email to the Daily Report.

Georgia’s open government laws were revamped by the state Legislature during its 2012 session.

Interaction between federal law and the state’s new Open Meetings Act has changed in such a way that may allow UGA student disciplinary hearings to be closed, The Daily Report reported.

“At times, very serious crimes are being funneled into disciplinary systems (of universities) that would be treated as felonies and handled in open court if they had happened at any other place,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

“It’s dangerous to public safety and public accountability to maintain a system of secret courts where crimes can be whitewashed without a paper trail,” he said.

 

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