The Ohio Supreme Court will soon weigh in on a huge question sparked by a tragic mass shooting: Should a student's right to privacy regarding their school records end when that student is deceased?
A number of media organizations, including the Associated Press, CNN and The New York Times have requested disciplinary and other records from Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools related to Connor Betts, who killed nine people and wounded dozens in Dayton's Oregon District on Aug. 4, 2019.
The district has denied those requests, citing Ohio laws around student privacy. A state appeals court ruled in favor of the district, but media outlets appealed.
Police shot and killed Betts, 24, within a minute of him opening fire. But the district argues his rights to privacy extend past his death. Media outlets and their attorneys disagree, however, and say the records could shed light on Betts' mental state and alleged violent tendencies, which former classmates have related to media outlets. Some local outlets have reported that former classmates recall Betts making hit lists and engaging in other violent behavior.
The school district cites the Ohio Student Privacy Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as reasons it believes Betts' records are exempted from Ohio open records law.
But Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost disagrees.
“This case presents the question whether FERPA continues to forbid disclosure of a former student’s school records after he dies during adulthood," Yost wrote in a brief filed with the Supreme Court. "The statute nowhere addresses this matter expressly. Still, FERPA is best understood not to limit disclosure of the records of deceased former students."
The high court will likely rule on the matter in the coming weeks.
Authorities have not yet named a motive for Betts' actions or whether he meant to kill his sibling, who was among those struck by bullets from Betts' AR-15.