City, News

Proposal investigation still underway

The legality of Boston City Council’s proposed University Accountability Ordinance is still up in the air as investigation of it continues, lawyers and representatives said.

The enforcement ordinance would require universities to report students’ addresses in a ‘University Accountability Report’ to the Inspectional Services Department. These addresses would pinpoint students who are violating the March 2008 ‘no more than four’ zoning law, which restricts more than four undergraduate students from living together off-campus. However, sponsors of the proposal have found that the requested information may be protected by federal privacy laws.

City Council is collaborating with university lawyers to verify that the ordinance does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Amy Derjue, spokeswoman for City Council President Mike Ross (Back Bay, Fenway, Kenmore) said.

‘We’re trying to get a better read on the privacy issue because obviously the city lawyers aren’t as well-versed on student privacy issues,’ Derjue said.’

Ross proposed the ordinance Feb. 11 and co-sponsored the original zoning law to help keep housing prices low in areas with students, she said.

James Corbo, an attorney who specializes in education law, said the ordinance does not violate FERPA, but students could choose to leave out their information.

‘Anyone violating the housing law can just opt out and not be caught,’ Corbo said. ‘It’s a student’s absolute right to opt out.’

Boston attorney Diana Gondek said the ordinance may not violate FERPA because it does not demand that names of students be released to the inspectional services department, only their addresses. Currently, universities report the number of students per zipcode to ISD, including on and off-campus.

‘If they’re not releasing names, just releasing addresses might be permissible,’ Gondek, who has over 30 years of experience in education law, said. ‘The only way to answer that question is to research the cases.’

BU spokesman Colin Riley said BU’s student privacy policy is bound by federal law.

‘Students have the ability to restrict access to their information,’ Riley said. ‘By and large it limits, restricts or prohibits in some cases, information being disclosed about students.’

Riley said he has not read the ordinance and would leave it up to attorneys to determine whether it violates FERPA.’ ‘

BU’s privacy policy, in accordance with FERPA, allows students to restrict the release or publication of any directory information, including local addresses, according to the BU website.

‘It isn’t per se illegal for this directory information to go out,’ Gondek said.

However, students would have to be notified about the ordinance before the school year starts, she said.

BU’s website makes note of some exceptions, such as when a subpoena is involved or in compliance with federal or state audit or evaluation programs. It does not specify local authorities beyond educational authorities in connection with such programs.

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