Attorney general backs media in records case of Oregon District shooter

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has filed a brief to the Ohio Supreme Court in support of multiple media outlets suing for the right to see Connor Betts’ student records on file with Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools.

Yost’s filing comes as the Dayton Daily News, WHIO, CNN, The New York Times and other media companies are appealing to the state’s highest court the decision by the Second District Court of Appeals in Greene County to deny making the records public.

Betts, 24, was the gunman responsible for the Aug. 4 mass shooting in the Oregon District that injured dozens and resulted in the deaths of 10 people, including Betts, who was fatally shot by Dayton police about 30 seconds after he began shooting.

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Betts was a student of the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district, where former classmates told this news organization he had created a hit list and a rape list with other students’ names, had other incidents of violence and threats as a teenager and was suspended from Bellbrook High School for an extended period of time.

The Dayton Daily News and others are seeking Betts’ discipline, attendance and other education records to better inform the public about what may have led to the tragedy and whether something could have been done to prevent it.

The state attorney general’s office is obligated by law to “ensure transparency in all levels of government,” including providing training and guidance to public officials tasked with obeying Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, Yost’s brief reads.

“This obligation is directly implicated here, where a public office is violating the Public Records Act in contravention of all training and guidance provided by the attorney general,” Yost’s filing reads.

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Yost argues that neither the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act nor the Ohio Student Privacy Act “protects the records of former students who die in adulthood.”

“This case presents the question whether FERPA continues to forbid disclosure of a former student’s school records after he dies during adulthood. The statute nowhere addresses this matter expressly. Still, FERPA is best understood not to limit disclosure of the records of deceased former students,” Yost’s brief reads.

In representing Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools, the law firm Subashi, Wildermuth & Justice successfully argued at the appellate court level that the media companies did not establish that the district was duty-bound to release Betts’ educational records, because doing so would have created an exception to the Public Records Act.

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The schools’ attorneys cite the Ohio Student Privacy Act as an exception to the Public Records Act, as it prohibits schools from releasing students’ records without written consent of parents or guardians, or that of the student once he or she is 18 years or older.

The school district’s attorney, Tabitha Justice, said in an email Thursday: “Regardless of how this case turns out, the Supreme Court’s decision should provide clear guidance for school districts that receive requests for educational records of deceased students. That is all we really want.”

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