May 16, 2014

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Will FERPA Protect Our Children’s Data And Privacy?

Do you have a child attending a public school in the U.S., and if so, have you heard of FERPA? The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, otherwise known as FERPA, is a law that protects our children’s data and privacy. It prohibits the improper disclosure of children’s personally identifiable information (PII) found in school records. Any educational entity, such as a school, school district, or postsecondary institution that receives money from the Department of Education falls under the purview of the law. Most private elementary and secondary schools that do not receive public funding are exempt.

Why Parents Should Be Concerned

Technology continues to move at lighting speed. It’s changed not only our daily routines, but also those of our children, who communicate, collaborate, read, study, and complete homework using tools vastly different from those we used a mere decade ago. The flurry of electronic devices used in classrooms, school databases, and third party online education services put our children’s data and privacy at risk.

While having a law such as FERPA in effect is comforting, laws are only as good as they are enforced. And even when they’re enforced to the letter of the law, things often happen that are outside of our control. The massive Target breach from the holidays and recent flaw discovered in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are perfect examples.

Parental Rights Under FERPA

Custodial and noncustodial parents are granted certain rights over their children’s records under FERPA. For example, you have the right to:

  • Access school records within 45 days of your request
  • Give consent to disclosure of your children’s personally identifiable information (PII) in most circumstances (exceptions apply)
  • Request to have inaccurate or misleading information in your child’s records amended; should your request to amend not be granted, you have the right to a hearing; and should the request to amend continue to be denied, you may insert a statement about the dispute into your child’s student record
  • Right to file a complaint with the DOE

Following is a list of the circumstances, or exceptions, under which schools may disclose your child’s PII without your prior consent.

  • School officials with legitimate educational interest;
  • Other schools to which a student is transferring;
  • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
  • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
  • Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
  • Accrediting organizations;
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
  • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
  • State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law.

Source: U.S. Department of Education

What Should Parents Do?

Educate yourself and become familiar with FERPA. Be aware of which online educational services your children use for school. Ask your school district about the policies and procedures they have in place to evaluate prospective third party partners. Are there checks and balances in place at the school level to further protect your child’s data and privacy.

We want our children to enjoy the benefits of technology in education. We also want our children to be protected.

Do you have any thoughts on parents and schools can work together to strike a balance between the two?

 

Ezzy Languzzi

Ezzy is a working mother and educator. She writes from the perspective of a parent seeking to strike a balance between all that technology has to offer and its privacy implications. Ezzy lives in Boston with her husband, son, two dogs, and two chickens.

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