A new federal mandate for campus sex offense transcript notations?

Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that bears watching by the higher education community.

The bill, named the “Safe Transfer Act,” seeks to amend “FERPA” for the purpose of requiring colleges and universities to (1) place a notation on a student’s transcript of pending or completed campus disciplinary proceedings involving a sex offense, and (2) also inform institutions to which a student seeks to transfer of the same.

This Act would set a new national standard requiring transcript notations for a particular type of campus offense (and also what one school must tell another school if a student seeks to transfer).  To date there are no federal laws compelling transcript notations for disciplinary actions. Decisions of what should or should not be included on a transcript has been left to the discretion of educational institutions. Similarly there are no federal laws compelling what an institution must tell another institution when a student is seeking to transfer.

However it must be noted that the general impetus of Rep. Speier’s bill is not without precedent.  As I reported earlier New York and Virginia adopted laws requiring a transcript notation when (1) a student was suspended or expelled after a finding of responsibility for a code of conduct violation involving sexual assault, or (2) when a student withdraws from a school while sexual assault offense charges are pending.

The bill introduced by Rep. Speier similarly requires sex offense transcript notations in a manner similar to the general requirements of the New York and Virginia laws.  Under Speier’s bill institutions of higher education will be compelled to undertake the following actions.

  • When the final results of a  disciplinary proceeding find that a student is responsible for a sex offense, for a period of five years, the school will be required to (i) disclose the results to any school to which the student seeks to transfer, and (ii) include the final result on the student’s transcript.
  • When a student withdraws from an institution with pending sex offense disciplinary charges, for a period of one year, the institution will be required to (i) disclose the pending charges to any other institution to which the student seeks to transfer, and (2) note on the student’s transcript that sex offense charges are pending.

Aside from the merits of the legislation, a large question to be pondered is whether this bill stands any chance of being considered with a new Republican President, Senate and House on the horizon.  My best sense is that the requirements of this bill might rise or fall as a part of larger efforts to change or amend the federal enforcement landscape respecting campus sexual assaults.

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