Ohio Supreme Court says Oregon District shooter’s school records don’t have to be released

BELLBROOK — The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled to affirm an Ohio Appeals Court decision to not release the school records of the Oregon District shooter’s school records.

""The school district correctly denied appellants' public-records request under the unambiguous language of the OSPA. We therefore affirm the Second District’s judgment denying the requested writ of mandamus," the majority opinion read.

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The vote was 6 to 1 in support of affirming the decision. Justice Sharon Kennedy dissented in the decision.

At question were the school records that news organizations, including News Center 7, had requested from Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools following the mass shooting in the Oregon District. Connor Betts, who attended the school district, killed nine people in August last year.

“We have and will continue to take the safety of our students very seriously,” said Bellbrook Superintendent Doug Cozad after the decision was announced. " As a public school district, our responsibility, first and foremost, is to our students and their families who should have confidence in us to protect all students and know that we will not turn over their confidential records without a court order or other clear legal authority requiring us to do so."

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After the shooting, WHIO-TV and other media organizations sought release of Betts' records from the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District, where he attended, in an effort to determine if there were any so-called red flags that might have indicated whether he would be involved in any violent behavior. When the school district refused to release the records, the lawsuit began, seeking a court order to make the records public.

An attorney for the school district, Tabitha Justice, had said there are other laws on the books that do prohibit release of that same information, even after the student is no longer in a condition to grant permission for release, including death.

“Students records have their own statutory protection,” Justice said, “and it is not a matter of the individual’s right of privacy in total. It is a matter of a statute that districts must protect these records. That is what they are doing and why they are doing it.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost had joined the case on the side of the news media. He told News Center 7 he also believed the records belong to the public and should be released.

He said he sees value in news organizations trying to answer some difficult questions in the Oregon District shooter case. Those include what might have prompted the violent outburst that took so many lives and what motivated Betts or any other mass shooter to open fire on a defenseless crowd of strangers.

“How do they travel this journey in such a horrific act against people who have no grudge against them and they don’t even know them. And so every clue to try to figure out what is going on here is so critical. People have a right to know that,” Yost said.