Judges reject media lawsuit to release Oregon District shooter’s school records

A three-judge panel denied the request of the Dayton Daily News and other news organizations to force the release of the Oregon District shooter’s school disciplinary records.

In the wake of the shooting, a group of media organizations including WHIO-TV and radio, WDTN-TV, CNN, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the New York Times Co. sued Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools for Connor Betts’ school records.

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Former classmates told reporters that his behavior in high school raised red flags that, if properly addressed, might have prevented the Aug. 4 tragedy that left nine dead and 27 wounded. Journalists sought records from the school district to confirm those accounts and find out how past incidents including an alleged hit list were handled.

The school denied those requests citing state and federal privacy laws that say student records are not releasable without the consent of the individual.

The media argued Betts’ right to privacy died with him.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a brief in support of the news organizations’ argument.

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Judges Jeffrey Wellbaum, Mary Donovan and Michael Tucker in the Ohio Second Appellate District Court denied that request, saying the school district proved the records are not public under existing law.

There is no precedent for releasing student records after a death, the decision says.

“The news agencies have not shown that the school has a clear and legal duty to release Betts’ school records,” the decision issued Oct. 2 says.

In a written statement, school district Superintendent Douglas Cozad said, “We respect the law and the decision made by our courts, which made it clear that Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools should not release the records of a former student, Connor Betts.

“We have and will continue to take the safety of our students very seriously. And as a public school district, our responsibility first and foremost is to our students and their families, who should have confidence in us to protect all students and know that we will not turn over their confidential records without a court order or other clear legal authority requiring us to do so.”

A next step for the news organizations could be appealing to the Supreme Court of Ohio, said Erin Rhinehart, attorney for the media.

“We’re evaluating all of our options,” she said.

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