University of Iowa Shares Student Information with Law Enforcement

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The University of Iowa for years has shared information with local law enforcement about students and staff who apply for gun permits, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The information normally is kept confidential to comply with the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. But university officials said forms signed by gun permit applicants at the Johnson County Sheriff's Office allows the university to share it, the Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/XmXDqp ) reported.

For student applicants, that could include information about failing grades, depression or anger issues. Unspecified personnel information also may be given about faculty or staff applying for a permit.

State law stipulates reasons for denying a gun permit, including certain convictions, alcohol addiction and probable cause an individual will engage in the illegal use of firearms. It does not include academic failure, student disciplinary matters or signs of depression.

"At the root level, this is all about an invasion of privacy," said Jeff Burkett of the Iowa Firearms Coalition. "This is Big Brother. What we're coming down to in this culture is bureaucrats and anti-gun people treating law-abiding permit holders as if they are sexual predators."

The practice has been going on for years, said Mark Braun, chief of staff for university President Sally Mason. It stems possibly from a campus shooting in November 1991, when a former graduate student killed one student and four faculty members before committing suicide.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said data about troubling behavior hypothetically could fall under the provision of state law that denies a permit because a person is likely to use a firearm illegally. It would need to be based on documented actions in the two years leading up to the application.

"So we could potentially get information that would fall under that," he said.

The U.S. Department of Education said the waiver of the federal rules must specify which records will be disclosed. The Johnson County form doesn't mention school- or education-related records, just criminal records. Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said that's unclear to applicants.

"The applicants would think this waiver pertains to those records, and not how they are doing in their calculus class," he said. "I can't imagine that wording would be interpreted to include some kind of implicit FERPA waiver. A reasonable reader would think just the opposite, since the waiver says it covers records of psychiatric or substance-abuse issues."

University officials also never see the privacy waivers before disclosing the personal information, the newspaper reported.

"Our folks are operating under the assumption that the applicants have signed the form," said Nathan Levin, a university lawyer. "I know our law enforcement unit works closely with local law enforcement agencies, and so I'm sure there is a certain level of trust they have established."

Levin said the school's intent is to assist law enforcement, "especially in light of the recent tragedies in Colorado, Connecticut and elsewhere, as well as the mass shooting that took place on our campus in 1991."

Braun, chief of staff for Mason, said the school is now considering a written policy or protocol on what type of information is shared with local law enforcement.
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