But attorneys for the media appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court arguing that those privacy laws don’t apply to adult former students who are deceased. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined the suit in support of the media in December.
On Wednesday, Tabitha Justice, attorney for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools, argued that state law is silent on whether confidentiality expires when a student dies and clarifying that question should be left to the Ohio General Assembly. She also noted that the government has an obligation to protect private data collected by schools.
Erin Rhinehart, attorney for news media, argued that the high court should interpret the intent of the Legislature and consider the context that the Ohio Student Privacy Law was written. She noted that the state law was crafted when common law refused to extend privacy after death and it was written to bring Ohio into compliance with federal law. Consistently, the U.S. Department of Education guidance has said the federal privacy law doesn’t apply to deceased adult students, she said.
Attorney Ben Flowers of Yost’s office said “This is the very sort of case for which the Public Records Act exists. It is so that individuals can obtain important information from their government that they can use to insist on legislation and potentially hold local and government officials accountable.”
A decision from the Ohio Supreme Court is expected in the coming months.