Attorney General's Opinion 1977-78 #482

VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT Honor Committee Elected By Student Body Annually To Administer And Enforce University Honor Code Subject to requirements of Act, but trials and deliberations not subject to open meeting; trial transcript and other scholastic records exempt from public disclosure.

COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES Family Educational Rights And Privacy Act (Buckley Amendments)-Identities of individuals not revealed in trial synopses submitted to Honor Committee.

RECORDS Scholastic Records Trial transcript of Honor Committee of University exempt from public disclosure of Freedom of Information Act.

VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT Trial Synopses Submitted To Honor Committee Prior To Trial Never Reveal Identities Of Individuals Involved "Official records" subject to public inspection and copying.

March 22, 1978

Member, House of Delegates

77-78 482

You have asked (1) whether the Honor Committee is subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act; and if it is subject to the Act, (2) whether trial synopses prepared by counsel appearing before the Committee in honor violation trials are records subject to public inspection, and (3) whether correspondence, evidence, trial transcripts and other records compiled and submitted to the Committee in honor trials are records subject to public inspection. This last question raises the issue whether honor trials must satisfy the public meeting requirements of the Act.

(I) Honor Committee

You say that the Honor Committee is a continuing committee whose members are elected by the student body annually to administer and enforce the University honor code. The Committee is maintained by the University Board of Visitors and receives regular funding from the Board. Furthermore, it has the in dependent authority to dismiss any student from the University for violation of the honor code. In summary, the Board of Visitors has delegated to the Committee its authority to establish and enforce the University honor code. The Freedom of Information Act requirements are applicable to "public bodies" as defined by §2.1 -341(a) and (e), Code of Virginia (1950), as amended. Section 2.1-341(a) sets forth the types of public bodies covered by the Act as follows:

any legislative body, authority, board, bureau, commission, district or agency of the ... State, including cities, towns and counties; municipal councils, governing bodies of counties, school boards and planning commissions; and other organizations, corporations or agencies in the State, supported wholly or principally by public funds. (Emphasis added.)

The University Board of Visitors is clearly a public body within the meaning of §2.1-341 (a), though it enjoys a qualified exemption with regard to open meetings under §2.1-345(5). Since the Board funds and maintains the Honor Committee and has delegated to the Committee its power to establish and enforce the student honor code, I am of the opinion that the Honor Committee is subject to the requirements of the Act. See Opinion to the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, dated April 21, 1975, and found in the Report of the Attorney General (1974-75) at 584.

(2) Trial Synopses

You say that trial synopses prepared by student counsel for the accused and accusors are submitted to the Committee prior to trial, at the Committee's request, and contain a brief statement of the issues presented and factual con tentions of the accused and accusors involved in trial. You further indicate that synopses never reveal identities of any individuals involved. Such synopses are "official records" of the Honor Committee within the meaning of §2. l-34l(b) since they are received by the Committee in the tran saction of its official functions. See §2.l-34l(b). Accordingly, I am of the opinion that they are subject to public inspection and copying upon proper request under the terms of §2.l-342(a), unless otherwise provided by law. Moreover, as long as such synopses do not contain information concerning identifiable individual students their disclosure will not violate the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (the Buckley Amend ments). See 20 U.S.C. §l232(g), et seq. For the same reasons, the Virginia Privacy Protection Act of 1976 would have no application. See §2.1-379, paragraph 2. (If it is possible that in some cases the synopses, without naming a student, could contain personally identifiable information, release would then be prohibited by the Buckley Amendments.)

(3) Trial and Records

The trial transcript and other records must necessarily contain information about individually identifiable students. They are, therefore, "scholastic records"' as defined by §2.1-34l(f). I am therefore of the opinion that they are exempt from required public disclosure under the provisions of §2.1-342(b)(3). Trials and deliberations of the Honor Council are not subject to the open meeting requirements of §2.1-343. Such proceedings are student disciplinary proceedings. Section §2.1-344(a)(3) of the Act exempts personal matters unrelated to public business. Student disciplinary proceedings fall within that exemption. See Report of the Attorney General (1974-75) at 344.