A lot of people assume that just about every kind of record held by schools and universities are secret because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, but it’s not true.
While schools have twisted FERPA beyond its intent (see great series by the Columbus-Dispatch), you can get directory information, budget information, and serious crime/disciplinary records. Also, you can get ANY record held by a school, even grades, as long as the student is not identifiable. So, for example, The Arizona Daily Star looked at grades in all its community school districts to reveal social promotion – a bunch of students flunking classes but still being moved onto the next grade. Because names were redacted, nobody’s privacy was invaded but the problem was still exposed.
For more information, check out a great new guide produced by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Committee (led by Carolyn Carlson), “Reporter’s Guide to FERPA.” You’ll find FERPA tales of horror (by David Chartrand), 10 great story ideas for school record stories (by Charles Davis), resources, and nuts and bolts breakdown of the law (by Jodi Cleesattle).