Schools Get FERPA Guidance

By Matthew Harwood

After the Virginia Tech tragedy, President Bush assigned cabinet  officials to go on a listening tour across America on the topic of emergency preparedness and school security.

Not surprisingly, a recurring concern during this listening tour was the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects students' privacy rights. Many critics of FERPA say the law is worded so vaguely that school administrators do not know when they can legally release information on their students to parents if they feel a situation involving a student constitutes an "emergency."

Two days ago, Margaret Spellings, secretary of education, announced the Department of Education had developed brochures that provide FERPA guidelines to parents and school administrators.

"Nothing is more important to Americans than the safety of their children, and the guidance we are making available today will help make America's schools safer. FERPA is not intended to be an obstacle to school safety, and the brochures will enable parents, teachers and administrators to safeguard students in our education system."

The brochures target three different audiences— K-12 educators, higer education officials, and parents—and were sent out nationwide two days ago. 

According to a Department of Education press release:

Understanding the law empowers school officials to act quickly and decisively when problems arise. These guides will further the collection of key emergency management resources available from the U.S. Department of Education to help schools and institutions of higher education plan for, respond to and recover from a serious incident.

Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, concurred on his DHS blog and underscored the importance of understanding the law so school administrators could act quickly before tragedy strikes again:

I’ll leave you with an important statistic from the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education’s Safe School Initiative. They found that in 81% of the cases of targeted school violence they studied, other people had some type of prior knowledge that an attack was being planned. The lesson here for everyone – students, teachers, administrators, coaches, and parents – is if you see something, say something.

You can find the new Department of Education guidelines and brochures on FERPA here.


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