The parents of a Georgetown University student who died two-and-a-half years ago from injuries following a dispute with another student are currently battling a loophole in a national policy that allows colleges and universities to prevent public disclosure of disciplinary action in violent crimes.
David Shick died on Feb. 22, 2000 following an altercation four days earlier on Georgetown's campus. Shick allegedly fell to the ground and hit his head on the pavement after being punched in the face by another student. D.C. medical examiners ultimately ruled Shick's death a homicide.
According to a statement released by Debbie and Jeff Shick, their son's assailant was found guilty of physical assault with bodily injury, disorderly conduct and violation of the school's alcohol policy.
In Aug. 2000, Georgetown's hearing board sentenced the student to a one-semester suspension and asked him to write a 10-page reflection paper and attend alcohol counseling. After the student appealed this decision in Nov. 2000, the sanctions were reduced after the board concluded that the original punishment was "disproportionate to prior cases," Debbie Shick said.
Ultimately, he remained a full-time student at the university, eventually graduating. Other students involved received 10 to 12 hours of community service.
According to a statement by Georgetown spokeswoman Julie Green Bataille, "the U.S. Attorney concluded that there were insufficient grounds for criminal charges to be brought" against the student.
The Shicks also decided not to push for criminal charges because "we felt that while the intent was to injure, it was not to kill," Shick said. "But we did want him removed, and we thought that he would be."
With a deceased complainant and no precedent to follow, Georgetown allowed the Shicks to attend the August hearings but they were not allowed to participate.
"Georgetown felt it was in its best interest to keep everything quiet," Shick said. "We didn't even know about an appeal until much later."
The Shicks were also told they would not be informed of the decision or the sanctions unless they signed a confidentiality agreement. The Shicks refused to sign the statement because "it wouldn't let us share the information with David's brother and sister," Shick said.
According to the bylaws of Georgetown's Student Judicial Hearing Board, "all hearings and deliberations are of a confident nature.... Hearing board members are prohibited from informing participants, including primary participants, of the final outcome of the hearing."
The University only discloses the results of disciplinary hearings to the respondent. Victims or complainants receive this information only if they sign the confidentiality agreement in the Disclosure of Adjudication Outcome Form beforehand, which prohibits the sharing of the information to any outside parties.
This confidentiality policy is permissible due to an ambiguity in the 1974 Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which states that "educational records," including transcripts, financial records and disciplinary records may not be disclosed publicly without the consent of the student. The act gives institutions the option of disclosing the name, violation and sanction imposed on students by the university.
According to Bataille, after the Shick case, the university's Student Affairs Disciplinary Review Committee examined the school's disciplinary disclosure policy.
"We continue to believe that maintaining the confidentiality of student conduct proceedings and outcomes best serves our educational mission," Bataille wrote.
The Shicks, however, feel differently.
"This loophole [in FERPA] -- 'may' but 'don't have to,' -- allows the university to keep incidents quiet to protect its own reputation," Shick said. "It is detrimental to the well-being of victims, to the other students on campus and the community as a whole."
The Shicks did not obtain the results of the hearings until Nov. 2001, 18 months after filing a civil suit against the student in question and coming to a settlement with the student to release to them the details of the hearing and the decision.
"It's just so wrong that a parent would have to fight to know the decision of the university that we entrusted our child to," Shick said. "When we read what had happened, we felt that Georgetown wasn't taking a strong stand, and we felt we needed to get out there."
They decided to make the information public after Georgetown student Kate Dieringer was raped by another student in 2001.
"They were so similar," Shick said of her son's death and the Dieringer rape, in which the results of the hearings were not released to the victim.
The Shicks are now battling Congress to have the legislative loophole removed.
"Some good has to come of David's death," Shick said. "Universities have to send a message that violent behavior will not be tolerated."
The Shicks also plan to work with U.S. senators Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg, and Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen to spearhead an amendment to FERPA and have been working closely with the watchdog group Security on Campus, Inc.
"We can't persuade the individual universities to change their policies, so we will have to force them to by persuading Congress," Shick said. "I'm not asking them to release cases of cheating or stealing. I'm asking that violent crimes and sexual assault be disclosed. Rape is not an 'educational record' and I don't believe Congress intended FERPA for this."
Like at Georgetown, Penn's disciplinary records are confidential.
According to OSC Director Michele Goldfarb, in 1998, an amendment to federal laws "regarding educational records permitted but has not mandated universities to release only certain limited information -- i.e. final outcomes -- from disciplinary proceedings that involve 'crimes of violence.'"
The University considered this revision, but decided that disciplinary records, including outcomes, would remain confidential, Goldfarb said.
Unlike Georgetown policy, however, the OSC policy stipulates that it will disclose to the victim of an alleged sexual assault the results of the disciplinary hearings. More pertinent to the current case, the policy states that "the Office of Student Conduct may also, in its discretion, disclose the results of a disciplinary matter to the victim of an alleged crime of violence."Comments powered by Disqus
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