Virginia Tech Athletics Provides Legal Reasoning For Not Sharing COVID Testing Results

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Sep 13, 2020
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

One of the unique hot button issues across the country this year is whether to share team-specific COVID testing results or not. The Commonwealth of Virginia has been a perfect example of this divide in legal interpretation as the University of Virginia has regularly provided testing information on their athletes by team without revealing names.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has cited FERPA regulations as a main reason for not sharing team-specific or athletics-wide COVID testing results. Virginia Tech just recently launched a university-wide dashboard which has made people wonder if Tech Athletics could do the same.

There has been varying opinions among fans as to whether they think the Hokies are right or wrong not to be sharing their athletics department testing data. However, there had been no specifics given as to what Tech's legal reasoning was for not releasing their athletics testing info and as someone who doesn't have a law degree, I'm not in a position to guess what that may be.

So we reached out to Virginia Tech's Legal Counsel with an athletic department spokesman responding to us and providing us with the legal reasoning.

Virginia Tech has cited the following legal reasoning based on the federal government FERPA guidance in regards to COVID as the reason for not releasing data.

The specific focus is on the statement that "other information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity either directly or indirectly through linkages with other information" which would violate FERPA based on the Personal Identifiable Information portion that states only the college student could provide signed and date written consent to allow a university to disclose educational records, in this case related to health.

You can read the full federal guidance here.

Now obviously, you can see where that phrasing can be open to lots of varied interpretations especially with the "indirectly through linkages with other information." A pregame inactive list or injury report definitely could be seen as a potential information source that could violate that portion of the FERPA guidance if injuries are specified for some players but not for all, making it easy to interpret who is lumped in the category of either testing positive for COVID or stuck in contact tracing. That may be part the reason why the University of Oklahoma's football program is not releasing team-specific test results anymore.

Of course, even schools that don't release their results will still have plenty of suspicion based on either injury reports or expected players simply not being on the sidelines due to being isolation or quarantine.

It's easy to see how this clause could easily be interpreted in multiple ways including the manner in which Virginia Tech's Legal Counsel has interpreted it for the athletic department.

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