Officials worry sex offenders are being passed between universities

BY BRIANNA JETT | MARCH 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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In the wake of increased pressure on the University of Iowa to remove sexual offenders from campus, there are concerns the offenders are simply being shuttled to another campus — and that the UI is unknowingly receiving offenders from other institutions.

Currently, the university does not converse with other institutions about students it suspends for sex crimes and does not receive records from other schools. University officials cite the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law aimed at protecting the privacy of student records.

However, if the violation is a sexual offense, the institutions are allowed to disclose disciplinary records without permission from the student — even if the case never enters a criminal court, said Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

“The entire record of the case, including the name of the student, the offense for which he was found responsible, and the punishment, are exempt from [the privacy act] if the behavior equates to a crime of violence or a sex crime,” he wrote in an email.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, the institution may disclose the information to a much broader audience.

“An institution may disclose to anyone — not just the victim — the final results of a disciplinary proceeding, if it determines that the student is an alleged perpetrator of a crime of violence or … sex offense, and with respect to the allegation made against him or her, the student has committed a violation of the institution’s rules or policies,” the website said.

There remains, though, a lack of conversation among colleges and disagreement about how much the school officials can legally share of a student’s record.

“If you don’t make that information available, then these guys can continue to operate,” said Karla Miller, the executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. “And they do.”

UI Dean of Students David Grady said in response to the website’s information, he will review the options under the privacy act with the Office of General Counsel.

Miller said offenders are passed from college to college, university to university.

“You’ll see a sex offender that moves to another school and another school and then another, and no one knows it,” Miller said.

Since 2011, the UI has suspended 11 students for sexual misconduct. While none of them have returned to campus, some of them are still in school.

“I believe there are some who are attending other institutions of higher education,” Grady said.

Officials at the UI said they are unable to converse with other institutions about a student’s record, and so they keep quiet.

“[The other schools] may ask, but we can’t release that information unless the student signs a waiver,” said Monique DiCarlo, the UI’s sexual-misconduct coordinator.

Grady agreed and said the UI is only able to let other institutions know if they took sanctions against a student but not why they took those sanctions.

Instead, the UI marks the transcripts of those it suspends or expels with “not permitted to register, Dean of Students.” This is an attempt to let the other institution know they should ask more questions.

“That’s one of the reasons we put the notation on the transcript,” Grady said.

LoMonte said that if students transfer to other schools, it doesn’t matter if they have been convicted of a sexual offense — the disciplinary records can still be shared.

“With or without [privacy act] exemption, the transfer school absolutely can and should receive the transfer student’s disciplinary history, especially if the student was responsible for serious criminal-level behavior,” he said in an email.

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