Over the past few years, courts across the country have confronted a common scenario. Members of the public and media request records from a public university pertaining to its investigations of sexual assault and misconduct on campus. Then, media outlets contend they have a right to access these records under state open records laws. But the university claims that it cannot, or will not, disclose the records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (“FERPA”).
The media outlet then files suit to compel disclosure. This Note explores the competing privacy and access interests at stake in this situation, using the North Carolina Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in The Daily Tar Heel v. Folt as a case study. It argues that the North Carolina Supreme Court decided the case erroneously as a matter of both statutory interpretation and legislative intent. It then examines and suggests alternative approaches that courts, state legislatures, and Congress can take to better reconcile FERPA and state open records laws.