Student records can become highly demanded items. Parents, the IRS, divorce attorneys, and others may present school staff with strident demands for a student’s records. Is this an invasion of student privacy? For many educational professionals, the correct response can be tricky. No article can address all situations, but we can outline some common issues and help educators think through and develop effective management strategies for requests—or demands—for student records.
Schools should treat student records with respect and only those with an obvious need should view them. These records may contain private facts about learning challenges, medical conditions, psychological problems, family status or issues, as well as other facts that are otherwise deeply personal. Thus, Seventh-day Adventist education professionals should treat requests for student records with great care. Let’s look at some areas in which a good management plan is beneficial.
School records can cover a wide range of information and documents. Records include the application, academic records, transcripts and grade reports, vaccination records, permission slips, sports physical reports, video or audio files, discipline records, and communication with parents about a variety of issues.
In the United States, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)1 is a federal law that governs confidentiality and the sharing of student education records by schools. In addition, many states have covered privacy issues as well.2 Bermuda has a sweeping privacy law enacted in 2016 known as the Personal Information Protection Act 2016 (PIPA)3, and in Canada, student privacy is covered by several statutes and court cases.
So, with a patchwork of privacy issues presented to the school administrator, what is the best way to make the sharing of student records consistent and transparent? Evaluate the Data Collected and Purge What Is Unnecessary.4
Before doing anything else, take an inventory of the information collected and stored. Try to trim down or eliminate information that is unnecessary. If a piece of data serves no purpose, consider purging it from your records. With data storage, less is typically better.
You must work with your conference to determine all legal obligations applicable to student records. If you have an attorney working with your conference, find out what national, state, or provincial laws apply. Many laws apply to government-operated schools but may not apply to private schools. For example, in the U.S., FERPA may apply to a private school but only if it takes funding from the U.S. Department of Education. If a private school does not take such funding, FERPA will not apply. Therefore, you must know if your school receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education. It’s important to know which laws apply to your school and what the applicable laws require with respect to the privacy of student records.
Policies of the School, Conference, or Union
Does your school, conference, or union have a policy concerning the privacy of student records? If not, work with your Adventist education leaders to develop policies that guide how they will be handled. The policy should cover 1) access to records, 2) providing copies and under what circumstances, and 3) whether parents will receive copies, in addition to other considerations.
Some state and provincial laws require that each parent must receive a copy of their child’s student records. Once you’ve decided how you will treat privacy and access, check your national, provincial, state, and even city or county ordinances. If any of these laws conflict with your policy, consider revision. It is also critical to consult with your attorney to verify if any applicable law specifically applies to private schools. The law tells you some things about student records, but where the law is silent, your policies and practices are to be followed.
Transcript requests can present unique issues. Typically, transcript release issues are connected to unpaid tuition and accounting issues. Schools should publish a policy and have an agreement with parents or guardians that requires payment of all tuition and fees prior to transcript release. Some governmental entities have laws that do now allow a private school to hold a transcript because of non-payment. For example, New York passed a law in 2022 which prohibits a private school from withholding a transcript even if money is owed.5 One way to temper the issue is to state that the condition is only enforceable as permitted by law.
Security videos are school property. If the school uses video footage in a disciplinary process, it can become part of a student school record.6
There are other specific student records that come with unique issues. Medical records are one example. In any instance, school protocol for student records should be published and clear. Be transparent.
Schools must secure parental authorization to share or disclose otherwise private information. Authorization can be secured through a form signed as part of the application/registration process. The language of the authorization should be tailored in the following way:
- Be specific.
- State the type of information or records that may be shared.
- List with whom the records may be shared.
- State any limitations on when, how, or with whom the records may be shared.
Because some data in school records may contain sensitive information—including health care, behavioral issues, discipline, and other sensitive information—the school should adhere to principles of ethics, good stewardship, and professionalism—always with parental consent.
The degree of privacy surrounding student records involves planning and decision-making by school and conference administration along with thorough analysis of any legal restrictions and obligations. Once that is done, decide on the best course of action. Finally, draft and publish the policy, making sure to adhere to it.
Creating a thoughtful and thorough policy is careful work, but it is the right preventative measure to protect students and the school.
References120 U.S. Code § 1232g - Family educational and privacy rights
2State Student Privacy Laws. Student Privacy Compass. (2023, February 2). https://studentprivacycompass.org/state-laws/
3Privacy - personal information protection act (PIPA). Privacy - Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) | Government of Bermuda. (n.d.). https://www.gov.bm/privacy
4Student privacy and you. Student Privacy and You - Professionally Speaking - March 2008. (n.d.). https://professionallyspeaking.oct.ca/march_2008/privacy.asp
5 NYS open legislation. NYS Open Legislation | NYSenate.gov. (n.d.). https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EDN/640
6 NYS open legislation. NYS Open Legislation | NYSenate.gov. (n.d.). https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EDN/640