It’s back to school! Buying school supplies, meeting new friends and FERPA notices

It’s back to school time! Many parents spent the last few weeks buying school supplies, sharpening pencils and filling out forms. These first days of school are filled with excitement for what the school year will bring and the friends our children will make. But it can also be overwhelming and a challenge for parents to keep up with the flood of information sent home. Many flyers will come back home in kid’s backpacks – parent meet up night, volunteer fairs, bake sales, field trip forms and, maybe, a notice that explains your rights under FERPA. Wait! What is that?

FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It was enacted in 1974 to ensure parents had access to their children’s educational records and to protect the privacy of this sensitive information. As a parent or guardian, you have the right to inspect your child’s records, request that corrections be made and opt out of your school sharing directory information with third parties.

School’s sharing information about your child? Why would a school share any information about your child? Well, here are a few examples – consider the school yearbook, the team roster with student names, the playbill of the school play or the Honor Roll listing in a newspaper. There are other ways such information could be shared and other third parties unknown to you could legally request this information, including marketers.

It’s important to keep in mind that a school can’t just decide to share this information. The school has to officially declare which information they consider to be directory information and then they have to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing this information. Typically, directory information includes basic information such as name and address, phone number, date of birth and email address. It may also include pictures, hobbies, interests and awards. FERPA requires schools to annually notify parents and eligible students of their right to opt out of sharing this directory information.

There are, however, other ways in which third parties can access your child’s data. School districts, state agencies and vendors that do everything from running the cafeteria and school buses to technology services your school may be using or requiring students to use are considered third parties with access to student data. FERPA has different rules for these type of uses and I will discuss this in future posts.

Why should parents be on the lookout? Because, according to the US Department Of Education, the actual means of notification is at the discretion of the school. So you won’t necessarily receive a FERPA notice in your child’s backpack. The notice could be in a link on the school’s website, a note on a PTA bulletin, the school calendar or student handbook and can be easily missed.

If you missed your school’s FERPA opt out notice, here is an example: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/mndirectoryinfo.html

Add student privacy to your “back to school list” and ask your school for the annual FERPA notice and decide whether you want to opt your child out of directory information disclosure.

If you want additional information you can contact the US Department of Education at 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327) or at the following address:

Family Policy Compliance Office

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20202-8520

Or visit the National Opt-Out Campaign website here – http://www.opt-out-now.info

Did your school make sure you saw their Directory Information Opt Out Notice? Is it on the school’s website? Is this all news to you, as it was to me several years ago when my kids entered school and I started digging into this? Questions? Comments? I will do my best to answer or point you to the appropriate source.

Wishing you all a wonderful school year!

Olga