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OSU Task Force Reports On School's Sexual Abuse Response

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After the school became aware of allegations made against Nathan Cochran, in November, it started an internal investigation and waited until 18 days later to notify police. After the school became aware of allegations made against Nathan Cochran, in November, it started an internal investigation and waited until 18 days later to notify police.
Nathan Cochran. Nathan Cochran.
STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

Oklahoma State University says the Board of Regents has released its legal review of the school's handling of alleged sexual misconduct of a student.

A Policy and Procedures Task Force was formed last July, following the "Freeh Report" on Penn State University's handling of sexual abuse allegations at that school.

OSU President Burns Hargis asked the OSU/A&M Board of Regents, in December, to expand the task force, after questions arose about its handling of allegations of sexual battery made against a former FarmHouse fraternity member.

12/13/2012 Related Story: OSU Expands Task Force To Review Handling Of Sexual Battery Allegations

After the school became aware of allegations made against Nathan Cochran, in November, it started an internal investigation and waited until 18 days later to notify police.

OSU says the task force has adopted two recommendations as a result of the special counsel report. Those recommendations include requiring schools to promptly notify law enforcement officials of any allegations of sexual assault, and to retain independent advocates for potential victims.

A former prosecutor and district judge, James Sears Bryant, advised the Board of Regent's special counsel during the investigation. Bryant's report found that OSU's reporting of the sexual assaults, after completing an internal misconduct hearing did not violate any state or federal laws. But, in public responses to the media, Bryant found that the university's staff did misinterpret federal laws regarding the reporting of incidents on campus.

OSU staff defended the delay in reporting the alleged sexual assaults, saying they could not notify police about incidents on campus because of a federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student records.

12/11/2012 Related Story: OSU: Privacy Law Prevented Disclosing Sexual Assault Allegations To Police

Bryant's report concluded that was not the correct application of the law.

"OSU did not violate any state or federal laws in their handling of the matter, nor did they violate any of their own policies or procedures," Bryant said. "However, during discussions with the media they incorrectly asserted the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act didn't allow them to report these alleged incidents until internal hearings were concluded. FERPA clearly allows reporting of potential crimes at any time."

At the time, OSU said it encouraged the alleged victims to call police, but the students chose not to.

"Since no minors were involved, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, OSU could not release the names of any victim or witness without their consent," said OSU spokesman Gary Shutt.

Frank LoMonte, of the Student Press Law Center, said the possibility of a sexual predator on campus should have been enough to involve the police and to notify the campus community of such a threat.

"It's complete hogwash that FERPA somehow is an obstacle to a college telling their own police department that they suspect crimes have been committed," LoMonte said.

OSU says Bryant interviewed four of the six students who brought the allegations and they reportedly talked of the concern, sensitivity and responsiveness expressed by members of the student conduct office.

Nathan Cochran was eventually charged with four counts of sexual battery. His preliminary hearing is set for March 4, 2013.

12/13/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma State Student Charged With Sexual Battery Appears In Court

"I appreciate the work of the Board of Regents and the task force. We look forward to quickly implementing policy recommendations that the board approves. This administration is fully supportive of any changes and enhancements that will make our campus safer," said President Burns Hargis.

Aside from the special investigation into the handling of allegations of sexual assault, the task force recommended adopting other new policies, as well as revisions to the Board Policy Manual. Other recommendations of the task force include requiring each institution to implement policies to protect minors involved with institutionally sponsored activities and programs, as well as activities and programs by third parties that take place on school property. Those recommendations will be considered for approval by the Board of Regents on March 1.

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