Understanding Confidentiality Requirements

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Readers ask often about protecting the privacy and confidentiality of students in the classroom. “Protecting student confidentiality” issues seem to get more ridiculous month by month.

Most parents think…because many schools tell them… that because of the law (FERPA) schools must protect the confidentiality of students in the classroom.

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The privacy rights in the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) relate to education records, not to an individual’s personal privacy.

Parents should take the time to learn what FERPA protects. Learn how the law defines “education records.”

Balancing Student Privacy and School Safety: A Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act for Elementary and Secondary Schools October 2007 states:

Images of students captured on security videotapes that are maintained by the school’s law enforcement unit are not considered education records under FERPA. Accordingly, these videotapes may be shared with parents of students whose images are on the video and with outside law enforcement authorities, as appropriate.

Info from personal knowledge or observations can also be shared.

FERPA does not prohibit a school official from disclosing information about a student if the information is obtained through the school official’s personal knowledge or observation, and not from the student’s education records.

For example, if a teacher overhears a student making threatening remarks to other students, FERPA does not protect that information, and the teacher may disclose what he or she overheard to appropriate authorities.

More Information and Resources

Privacy, Confidentiality, and Education Records

Balancing Student Privacy and School Safety: A Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act for Elementary and Secondary Schools (October 2007) about how to balance these two issues and discusses videos and school staff knowledge and observations.

Understanding the Confidentiality Requirements Applicable to IDEA Early Childhood Programs Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS) (October 2016)

IDEA/FERPA Confidentiality. Includes IDEA/FERPA Confidentiality Side by Side – Compares Part B of IDEA, Part C of IDEA, and FERPA. (See p. 8-11)

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9 Comments on "Understanding Confidentiality Requirements"

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I am a teacher in a building where both of my special needs children’s first names and last initials were put on a “data wall” showing if they were on/above/below grade level for reading along with an identifying mark showing they are special education (all personnel in the building have access to this room). Is this wrong? I’m upset as a parent, but was told if I didn’t work in the building, I would not have known. Also, picture was taken by a county official and put on twitter where names are visible. Is there anything I can do?

I have a client (Kindergarten) who occasionally elopes. The parents have put an “Angel Sense” GPS on his person so they can track where he is throughout the day. This device also allows them to hear what is occurring in his environment, but does not record. The district has stated that he may not wear this device because it violates the privacy of his peers in the classroom. Would appreciate feedback on this.

Unless this is a violation of state laws, it does not sound like a violation of privacy. I suggest that the parent write to the principal, & special ed director or other administrator stating the need for the device & requesting approval of its use. If the school says no, ask for a letter from the school attorney stating that this is a violation of privacy.

SLP says she can’t tell me who my son is sitting with at lunch because of confidentiality. Really?

The school wouldn’t give us any details about a bullying incident, citing FERPA.

I’ve had the same issue in Florida. I received a copy of the bullying investigation report, it was practically blank. Cited FERPA. I’d like to know what the school knows so that I can advocate for my child.

What about peer editing? Would that be a FERPA violation, especially to a student with an IEP?

What is peer editing?

Peer editing is when another student corrects your work. In this case it was an essay.

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