A top official with the US Department of Education is concerned with a loophole in federal law that grants schools access to the private health-treatment records of their students.
A student at the University of Oregon, who says she was raped by three members of the school’s basketball team, claims that the school did not handle her case appropriately. According to the unidentified student, the school’s athletic department cared more about the success of the basketball team than it did the safety of female students on campus. In particular, she was distressed over the coach’s decision to recruit one of the accused while he was under suspension for a separate sexual assault last November while attending Providence College, writes Michael Walsh for The Daily News.
“I know a lot of people are angry. I am angry, too. I am angry with the culture that appears to exist in our athletic department that prioritizes winning over safety of our students,” she wrote in an open letter.
In a letter sent by chief privacy officer Kathleen Styles almost three months ago, she inquires about certain loopholes after the University of Oregon Counseling Center handed a students’ confidential therapy records to university lawyers last December after the student claimed to have been gang raped several times by three members of the school’s basketball team.
The letter offers proof that federal education officials are aware of the loophole and are concerned about how it is used. In addition, it shows the value placed on student confidentiality, as well as the possibility of national “guidance” being issued which would offer instruction as to the application of privacy laws.
A joint statement was issued in response by Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Suzanne Bonamici which stated that they would be continuing their work with the DOE in an effort to ensure that student health records remain private, both on and off campus.
“The Department of Education affirmed that students on college campuses are not given the same privacy protections that private citizens have when it comes to their health records,” Wyden and Bonamici said in the written statement. “The last thing sexual assault victims should have to think about is whether their own words could be used against them when they seek help.”
Efforts to close the loopholes have been made by federal and state lawmakers since December 2014 when a request for an unidentified students’ confidential medical records, made by university lawyer Samantha Hill, was fulfilled by the UO Counseling Center without the student’s knowledge or consent.
A lawsuit has been filed by the Clackamas County woman against UO, in part due to the handling of her therapy file. Investigations by state regulatory boards are currently ongoing into Hill, UO Interim General Counsel Douglas Park, Counseling Center director Shelly Kerr and three other UO psychologists in connection with the release, which Kerr had tried to keep a secret.
In response to the scandal, Governor Kate Brown signed a bill offering extra confidentiality to protect sexual assault victims in the state, reports Kami Mattioli for Sporting News.