Public university released students’ private records to local sheriff

University of Iowa (UI) officials announced on Thursday that the school will halt its practice of sending student information — such as details on classroom performance — to the local law enforcement agency that handles gun permits.

Administrators at the University of Iowa disclosed private information to Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek.

Emails exchanged between UI administrators and Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, published in The Des Moines Register Thursday, revealed that administrators regularly released information on “academic failures and disciplinary issues” for students who applied for permits to purchase or carry weapons.

Such disclosures are possibly illegal under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which dictates what information law enforcement agencies may legally consider when processing permit-to-carry applications.

UI officials announced on Thursday that they will consult with the U.S. Department of Education about the legality of the policy, according to an article published Thursday in The Gazette.

Sheriff Pulkrabek denied a request for an interview, but sent Campus Reform an op-ed he penned on the subject that was published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on Friday. In it, he admitted ignorance of the federal law.

“As the Sheriff, I do not pretend to be familiar with or an authority on the FERPA guidelines,” he wrote.

FERPA prohibits the disclosure of education records unless the student signs a waiver detailing exactly which type of documents are being released. The application for gun permits does include a privacy waiver, a copy of which Pulkrabek includes with his op-ed. The waiver does not include any mention of education records.

Ryan Edwards, a senior at IU, told Campus Reform on Friday that while he supports the school releasing some information about disciplinary issues involving violence, he does not believe it had the right to release information about grades.

“Academic performance, I don’t really see a correlation whatsoever,” he said. “I don’t think academic performance in the classroom should be at all available to police.

“The theater shooting in Colorado, that guy that shot up the theater was one of the brightest minds at MIT, so you would definitely not have any insight, based on his academic performance, whether he was a stable individual that should be carrying a firearm,” he said.

Edwards did not say whether or not he had applied to obtain a gun permit from the Johnson County office.

The Register also reported administrators may have released “unspecified personnel information” on faculty or staff who applied for weapon permits.

Pulkrabek told the Register the disclosure does not include specific grades, but whether students are failing classes or showing signs of anger or depression.

In 2011, state law changed to detail specific reasons for denying a gun permit — but poor grades or bad classroom behavior were not among them.

Pulkrabek told the Register the information “could not be used,” but then said the office “could potentially get information” through the release process “that would fall under” the provision which denies weapons to anyone likely to use them illegally.

Edwards said he did not realize how much information the university was sharing with the police,  but that the extent of it did not surprise him

“I always assume it’s a little more information than you realize,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s right. I believe strongly in our Second Amendment rights.”

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