Student Journalists File Lawsuit Against Western Washington University on Public Record Act
One former student and two current journalism students have filed a case against the administration of Western Washington University (WWU) for violating the Public Record Act of Washington. They want the administration to release the names of the students who were responsible for committing sexual offense or severe crime.
The petitioners Julia Furukawa and Erasmus Baxter and Asia Fields-a former WWU graduate, believe that the WWU, situated at Bellingham has breached Public Record Act, the act allows the university to release the name of students which the university seems to withhold.
The petitioners informed on May 30, 2019, about the lawsuit against WWU. They filed the case in Whatcom County Superior Court. Mike Hiestand, Student Press Law Center Senior Legal Counsel was also present at the court; he has closely worked with these students.
As per the court filing of October 15th, 2018, the students requested stating
“Under Washington’s Public Records Act, we would like to request the final results, including the student’s name, of disciplinary proceedings where Western has determined a student was responsible for a crime of violence or non-forcible sexual offense in the last five years.”
Hiestand at the conference mentioned that schools within the country, most of the time with the favor of the US Department of Education, have battled with tooth and nail so as to hide the campus crime data- such information gives a different information about the campus life than that is created in the glossy brochures of school and found on marketing materials.
He stated we look over this as an opportunity to create a legal model for student journalists across Washington State and to show these names are important to be revealed under the Act of Public Records. He also said that taking a large portion of this into the court, won’t require other student journalists to do it.
The students have filed the case independently from a student media outlet, represented by William Crittenden, Seattle based attorney.
Former university graduates, Fields informed that we’re just making an effort to ensure that student journalist has access to the information that they require in order to verify how colleges are dealing with such cases and what takes place after the student is penalized and investigation process completes. Further said, we can obtain records that will state if a student was expelled or suspended as of now, but what we don’t get is whether they are coming back to campus or whether they’re moving elsewhere and might repeat the offensive crime.
When the public record officer of Western filed the request, the offenders’ names were edited. The reason for editing was cited as RCW 42.56.230
The RCW mentions, during the public inspection the following personal details are exempted and photocopying under this section:
“Personal Information in any files maintained for students in public schools, patients or clients of public institutions or public health agencies, or welfare recipients.”
The student journalists are expecting that the outcome of the case will allow the school to release the unedited information, reward the petitioners’ statutory fines and allow the school to pay for court fees, for inappropriately retaining the requested data each day by the WWU.
The student journalists claim that before proceeding with the legal action, they tried to solve the issue with the WWU.