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UCF spending taxpayer money in student senate records fight

Communications VP: 'We're following the law'

ORLANDO, Fla. – The University of Central Florida said it has followed state and federal law to pay for legal defense teams and deny access to  student government voting records to the press and the public.

To date the University has spent $250 thousand in taxpayer funds  to defend three lawsuits by the student-run Knight News organization.

UCF Communication Vice President Grant Heston said there is no cover-up or hidden agenda.

"State and federal laws prohibit the release of certain types of information," Heston said. "So if federal law says we cannot release we are not going to break the law to release it."

The law Heston referred to is the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, FERPA.

FERPA protects "the privacy of student education records" like a GPA or SAT test scores.

The law doesn’t protect student voting records or how they decided to spend taxpayer money.

In this case we are talking about student activity funds, taxpayer money that stands at $18.6 million.

Tampa attorney Rachel Fugate, a media law specialist, said the UCF argument misses the mark.

"If these students are in a governing capacity determining where taxpayer money is going, there’s nothing private or personal about that," Fugate said.

Heston said UCF is open to a compromise.

Student government is working on ways that might be more accessible and transparent on their own, and the administration would support that.

A fourth case is set to be argued in Orange County court next Tuesday.

This argument hinges on the access of additional records.

Heston said the university issues thousands of records without an argument, but there are a "sliver" of records it cannot provide.

Knight News offered a compromise to the University Thursday that calls for complete transparency in student government. The university’s attorneys are still reviewing the proposal.


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