Officials at the university attended by Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and three friends charged with federal crimes for allegedly helping him have asked federal officials whether they can unveil their former students’ records.
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth announced in press release on Friday that it was seeking U.S. Department of Education "guidance on how it can legally release student records in response to inquiries by the media and general public."
Officials want to know whether releasing the information would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which governs the privacy of student records.
Chancellor Divina Grossman said that, since the April 15 bombing, the school "has demonstrated its ability to keep our community safe and focused on teaching and learning under the most difficult circumstances.
"Still, we recognize our obligation to be good stewards of public resources.
"It is important that we do all that we can to learn from this experience by being honest with ourselves and as transparent as possible under the law," she said.
The school has started reviewing student academic and financial policies and its public safety and operational response, officials said.
The records belong to Tsarnaev, 19, accused of orchestrating the attacks with his brother Tamerlan, 26, who died four days later in a shootout with police.
The North Dartmouth, Mass., school also wants to know whether it can release the records of three others arrested on May 1. Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov are being held on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice for removing a laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks from Tsarnaev’s dorm room and throwing the items in the trash. Robel Phillipos, charged with making false statements in a terrorism investigation for lying to FBI agents, was released to his mother’s custody on Monday under house arrest.
Neither the school nor the federal education authorities responded to requests for comment.
The school is "doing the right thing" by seeking guidance about whether any recognized exception to student privacy act would allow it to release the records, Paul Lannon, a Boston Holland & Knight partner who co-chairs the firm’s education team, but who doesn’t represent UMass Dartmouth, said. "It’s very appropriate for them to seek guidance from the Department of Education."
The act generally requires the written consent of a student, or a parent for students under 18, for the release of records, he said.
So-called "directory" information can be released without consent, including a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and attendance dates. Other exceptions relate to subpoenas and health and safety emergencies, he said.
Based on the school’s statements to news reporters, it appears that it has cooperated with federal authorities’ information requests, he said. "They want to expose [these records] to the general public. That’s different. That’s really unprecedented in my experience," he said.
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.