US Dept of Ed on UO’s decision to access confidential counseling records

Rich Read has the story in the Oregonian, here:

A top U.S. Department of Education officialhas expressed concern about a loophole in a federal law that allows schools such as the University of Oregon to gain access to students’ private health-treatment records.

Kathleen Styles, the agency’s chief privacy officer, sent a letter replying to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who along with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., wrote almost three months ago to inquire about potential loopholes. The correspondence began after the UO Counseling Center gave university lawyers confidential therapy records in December of a student who says she was gang raped multiple times by three Ducks basketball players.

Styles’ letter is the first statement by a senior federal official identifying a legal loophole that the University of Oregon may have used to gain access to the woman’s therapy records. …

… Federal and state lawmakers have jumped in to close loopholes since Dec. 10, 2014, when the UO Counseling Center complied with a request from university lawyer Samantha Hill to produce the unidentified freshman’s confidential records without her consent or foreknowledge.

The Clackamas County woman is suing the UO, in part for the handling of her therapy file. State regulatory boards are investigating Hill, UO Interim General Counsel Douglas Park, Counseling Center director Shelly Kerr and three other UO psychologists in connection with the release, which Kerr tried to keep secret.

Both the lawsuit and the investigations concern state laws – and, for the psychologists, the American Psychological Association’s ethics code – instead of federal laws that could be cited by the university as justification.

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