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Protecting Student Privacy Rights Legally

In today’s tech-driven world, schools collect a vast amount of information on your child, from grades and attendance records to medical history and even their browsing activity on school computers. This data is valuable for educational purposes, but it also raises concerns about student privacy as an education lawyer has encountered many times within their practice. So, what rights do students have, and when should you consider getting a lawyer involved?

This blog will equip you with the knowledge to protect your child’s privacy at school. We’ll cover the basics of student privacy laws, common situations where privacy might be an issue, and when to seek legal advice.

What You Need To Know

Think of your child’s education information like a diary. It holds valuable details about their learning journey, but you wouldn’t want just anyone peeking inside, right? Thankfully, there are federal laws in place to safeguard this information. Here are two key ones:

  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): This law gives parents certain rights regarding their child’s education records. These rights include the right to inspect and review those records, request amendments if they believe they’re inaccurate, and control who the school discloses that information to.
  • The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA): This law protects student privacy regarding certain school activities, like surveys, health screenings, and disciplinary actions.

It’s important to note that these laws have some exceptions. For instance, schools can share “directory information” with the public without parental consent. This typically includes things like your child’s name, address, and phone number.  However, parents have the right to opt out of having this information shared.

Understanding Your Rights Under FERPA

FERPA grants you specific rights regarding your child’s education records. Here’s a breakdown of those rights as shared by our friends at K Altman Law:

  • Right to Inspect and Review: You have the right to see everything in your child’s education records. This includes grades, attendance records, standardized test scores, disciplinary actions, and even notes from teachers. Imagine wanting to help your child improve their writing skills, but you can’t see the teacher’s feedback because the school isn’t following FERPA.
  • Right to Request Amendments: If you believe there’s an error or something inaccurate in your child’s records, you can request that the school fix it. The school has a legal obligation to investigate your request and make the correction if necessary. Let’s say your child received a failing grade on a project due to a missing document, but you have proof they submitted it on time. FERPA allows you to request the grade be changed.
  • Right to Control Disclosure: You have the right to decide who gets to see your child’s education records. Schools can’t share this information with anyone without your consent, except for a few specific exceptions allowed by law. This means you can control whether colleges, future employers, or even other family members see your child’s records.

Common Scenarios Where Student Privacy Might Be An Issue

Now, let’s get down to real-life situations. Here are some instances where student privacy might be an issue:

  • School-issued devices:  Many schools provide laptops or tablets for students to use. These devices often have monitoring software that tracks browsing history, emails, and even keystrokes. While this can be used for educational purposes, like checking for plagiarism or cyberbullying, it can also feel intrusive, especially for older students.  Imagine your teenager feeling like their every move online is being watched by the school.
  • Social media monitoring:  Schools might monitor student activity on social media, especially if it involves school threats or bullying. However, the line between monitoring safety and invading privacy can be blurry.  For example, can a school monitor a student’s private social media messages if they suspect bullying outside of school hours?
  • Use of educational technology:  Many schools use educational apps and software programs. These tools can collect a lot of data about your child’s learning habits and progress. Make sure you understand the privacy policies surrounding these programs before your child uses them.  What data is being collected? How is it being used?  Is it shared with third parties?  Knowing the answers to these questions can help you make informed decisions about the technology your child uses at school.

Protecting Your Child’s Privacy 

Here are some steps you can take to be proactive about your child’s privacy at school:

  • Review your school’s privacy policies: Every school should have a privacy policy that outlines how they collect, use, and share student data. Read it carefully and ask questions if anything is unclear. Don’t be afraid to express your concerns if you feel certain practices are overly intrusive.
  • Talk to your child: Have an open conversation with your child about their online activity and the importance of privacy. Explain what information they should and shouldn’t share online. Encourage them to come to you if they feel their privacy is being invaded at school.
  • Consider opting out of directory information sharing: While schools can share directory information with the public without your consent, you have the right to opt out. This can be helpful if you’re concerned about your child’s safety or privacy.
  • Request limitations on monitoring software: If your child uses a school-issued device, you can request limitations on the monitoring software. For example, you might be able to disable keystroke logging while still allowing the school to monitor for inappropriate websites.

When To Get Legal Help

If you’re concerned that your child’s privacy rights are being violated at school, here are some situations where seeking legal help might be wise:

  • The school is refusing to give you access to your child’s education records: FERPA gives you the right to see these records. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and enforce them.
  • You believe the school is sharing your child’s information with unauthorized parties: FERPA has strict rules about who can see student records. A lawyer can help you determine if the school is following the law and take legal action if necessary.
  • The school’s use of technology is overly intrusive: Some monitoring software goes beyond what’s necessary for educational purposes. A lawyer can advise you on your options and help you fight for your child’s privacy.
  • You believe your child has been discriminated against based on information in their records: FERPA protects students from discrimination based on their education records. A lawyer can help you fight for your child’s rights if you believe they’ve been unfairly targeted.

Finding A Lawyer

If you decide to seek legal help, look for lawyers for student privacy rights who specializes in education law. They will have the knowledge and experience to navigate the complexities of student privacy rights. Ask friends, family, or your child’s teacher for recommendations, or contact your local bar association for a referral.

Your child’s privacy is important. By understanding your rights and taking proactive steps, you can help ensure their information is protected. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you have concerns about the school’s practices. And remember, if you need help navigating the legalities, a lawyer specializing in education law can be a valuable resource.