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Date Author Title
2010-11-22 Vince Long Does FERPA limit electronic communication?

FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal law that protects privacy and access to student educational records. The law grants students and parents the right to view and copy the records and specifies who else can have access and under what conditions. While schools may disclose some student information, such as directory information, parents and students must be notified of their right to be excluded from those distributions. Schools implement policies and procedures that spell out how FERPA compliance. A standard measure is that student records may be released only after a parent, or a student if over 18 years of age, signs a release.

 In our age of rapid electronic communications, parents rely on telephone and email to contact teachers regarding issues surrounding their children's education. Most teachers have received a phone call or email from a parent asking for information about test results, grades, placement, and the like to the point where this is almost routine. Guidance counselors deal with this on an almost daily basis.

 The question that arises is whether this type of communication is in compliance with FERPA? When an email request for confidential information arrives, how is the teacher to know if it actually comes from the parent? If a school district requires writing permission to be on file before the release of the information, how does the teacher become aware of that?

 With our current email technology, “spoofing” in not uncommon and extremely easy to accomplish. This is where the identifying information in an email is altered to make it appear it has originated from somewhere other than its true source.

 The same holds true for telephone conversations. How does the teacher verify the identity of the person on the other end of the conversation before disclosing information in the student's records?

 Some school districts have made attempts at placing some safeguards in place. One strategy is to require parents to complete a form where they indicate what email address and phone number they will use to communicate with the school. While not foolproof, this does offer a good faith effort to comply with the requirements for FERPA.

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