The Montana Supreme Court has returned the issue of whether the Montana Board of Regents and the University of Montana should release private students’ records to best-selling author Jon Krakauer back to the District Court.

In its opinion released on Monday, the Court wrote:

‘The Court recognized that federal and state privacy laws authorize Montana courts to order the release of student records after application of Montana constitutional principles that properly balance a student’s enhanced privacy rights in the records and the public’s right to know. The Court remanded the case to the District Court to conduct an “in camera,” or confidential, review of the records, and to apply the proper constitutional principles in order to decide what, if any, records should be released.’

The state Board of Regents maintained that if they released the records of former Grizzly football player Jordan Johnson, the school could face the loss of federal funding for violating federal student privacy laws.Johnson was tried and acquitted of rape in 2013. Krakauer authored a controversial book entitled 'Missoula; Rape and the Justice System In a college Town' .

The High Court wrote;

‘First, the Court held the District Court correctly determined that Krakauer may seek to enforce the right-to-know provision of the Montana Constitution, even though he is an out-of-state resident. Second, the Court determined that the student records in question are educational records that are given heightened privacy protection under the laws enacted by Congress and the Montana Legislature, and that these laws generally prohibit the release of such records. In light of Krakauer’s request for a specifically-named student’s records, the Commissioner could not have complied with the request without violating these laws.’

Following oral arguments before the court in April, attorney for Jon Krakauer, Mike Meloy of Helena, had a word to describe the Montana University System’s contention that the federal government would withhold student loans and other aid should the records be made available to his client; hogwash.

“No state has ever lost federal funds as a result of disclosure of records, number one” he said. “And, number two, FERPA only causes jeopardy to funding of an educational institution if they engage in a pattern and practice of systematically disclosing student records. In fact. there’s a provision in FERPA that prevents a court from making that kind of order. So, I wasn’t buying that argument, and there’s no way this university is going to lose any funding.”

So, now, the Lewis and Clark County District Court will have to decide between the public’s right-to-know, and the personal privacy of Montana’s university students.

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