A group of Virginia Democrats is testing the limits of the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA.
The group, NextGen Virginia, is a left-wing organization of young people advocating for climate change, immigrant rights, affordable health care, and equality. The progressive group is campaigning for Virginia Democrats for state House seats around the Commonwealth.
According to the Roanoke Times, NextGen Virginia submitted FOIA requests for student directories from 39 colleges in the state to reach young voters. The Times reported that NextGen requested students contact information from 15 Virginia four-year universities, 23 community colleges, and the two-year college, Richard Bland College.
The group was able to receive personal information on more than 40,000 students. Of the 39 schools that received the request, 18 complied with the group. The universities sent over their directories which included the names, addresses, and cell phone numbers of students. Virginia Tech, James Madison, Virginia Commonwealth, Longwood, Radford, and Christopher Newport University all complied and turned over students’ personal information.
NextGen then began sending mass text messages to the students using the information they obtained from the colleges asking students to register to vote for the Democrat running in their area.
The legality behind obtaining the students’ information through a FOIA request is now in question. The law states that FOIA requests exclude educational records and records of educational institutions. The law identifies “scholastic records” as part of the excluded information. Scholastic records are files “containing information directly related to a student or an applicant for admission.” If students are over the age of 18, they can submit, in writing, to waive their scholastic record protections.
“For scholastic records of students who are emancipated or attending a public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth, the right of access may be asserted by the student. Any person who is the subject of any scholastic record and who is 18 years of age or older may waive, in writing, the protections afforded by this subdivision. If the protections are so waived, such records shall be disclosed.”
Red Alert Politics has reached out to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act Advisory Board for a response.