The California Department of Education is very clear about the records it keeps on students, which range from demographic data all the way to school lunch records and standardized test scores. Long story short, it's a heap of data that comes with a heap of responsibility.
That's why California, like the other 49 states in the Union, adheres to federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) laws for teachers, parents and students. Passed nationwide in 1974, FERPA aims to ensure that student educational records enjoy a fair amount of privacy, but it's certainly not without some exceptions and caveats.
The Basics of FERPA
While there are some misconceptions about FERPA as teacher-student confidentiality laws, FERPA has less to do with a teacher breaking confidentiality and more to do with the rights of the parents or student in regards to educational and administrative records. Basically, this federal law gives parents or guardians some key rights over their children's educational records until the child reaches the age of 18, at which point those rights are transferred to the student.
Most importantly, FERPA gives parents, guardians or adult students the legal right to review the student's educational records. In addition to that basic right, the law states that parents, guardians or eligible students, as it dubs adult students, have the right to request corrections if they identify inaccuracies in those educational records.
According to FERPA, if the school does not amend the records pursuant to the request of the parents or the eligible student, they must offer those parties a fair hearing regarding the matter in question.
About Educational Records in California
If you don't know exactly what sort of records the law applies to, it can be difficult to really gauge FERPA's influence and the breadth of schools' rights to certain disclosures.
Fortunately, the California Department of Education (CDE) tells us, via its official website, exactly the type of student records it keeps. According to the CDE, records within FERPA's domain include:
- Student's name, ID number, address, date of birth and place of birth.
- Name and address of their parents or guardians.
- Demographic data, including ethnicity and gender.
- Attendance history.
- Schools attended.
- Grade level completed.
- Course enrollment.
- Academic work completed.
- Date of graduation.
- Standardized test scores.
- Disciplinary actions.
- Eligibility and participation in school lunch programs.
- Eligibility for special education programs and services.
- Eligibility for compensatory programs.
- Special program services provided.
Read More: Special Education: California Law
Exceptions to FERPA
Just like most laws, FERPA comes with its fair share of exceptions. Most notably, the law allows the school or the state educational authority – in this case, the California Department of Education – to disclose educational records without the prior written consent of the parent, guardian or eligible student in a variety of situations. These exceptional circumstances may include disclosures of information to:
- School officials and educators in the same school district, providing the CDE deems them to have legitimate educational interest. In cases of disciplinary action, this can extend beyond the school district.
- School officials in other districts and at post-secondary institutes where the student seeks to enroll or is already enrolled, for purposes related to enrollment or transfer.
- Organizations conducting studies for schools relating to predictive tests, student aid programs and classroom instruction.
Educational records may also be disclosed without express permission when in connection with a health or safety emergency. Likewise, directory information, which usually includes information such as the student's name, address, phone number, place of birth, dates of school attendance and honors, may be disclosed as long as the school has notified the parents, guardians or eligible student. At the time of notification, these parties may refuse the disclosure of directory information.
Of course, a lot has changed since FERPA first saw the light of day in 1974. California's Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) aims, at least in part, to address that change. SOPIPA, enacted in 2014, prohibits websites and apps that cater to K-12 students from using student data for the purpose of targeting advertisements to students, from creating online student profiles for commercial purposes and from selling student information.
FERPA gives parents, guardians and adult students the right to access and fairly amend educational records, but it also gives schools certain disclosure rights.
As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.