The US Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) offers guidance and technical assistance to schools, parents, and policymakers as they seek to interpret federal laws related to student privacy. PTAC’s staff spends a lot of time discussing the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which is the chief federal law that safeguards student privacy. For this reason, PTAC developed a new tool to make it easier to understand one of the more complicated aspects of the law: FERPA exceptions.
Before we get into FERPA exceptions, here’s a high-level overview of what FERPA does:
FERPA guarantees parents the right to access, review, and make corrections to their child’s education records.
FERPA protects personally identifiable information (PII) from unauthorized disclosure.
FERPA articulates a limited set of instances in which PII may be shared without parental consent, also known as FERPA exceptions. Please note that whenever PII is shared using one of FERPA’s exceptions, the law articulates specific conditions that must be met in order to safeguard student privacy.
PTAC’s new tool makes it easier than ever before to understand the distinction between the most commonly used FERPA exceptions. It even manages to list the requirements for each exception on a single page. Though the tool is by no means a comprehensive overview of FERPA, it is a handy resource to understand the distinctions between the following FERPA exceptions:
The directoryinformation exception allows schools to create policies that allow for the sharing of basic personal information, like a student’s name and address, which are not considered harmful if shared with the public.
The schoolofficial exception allows schools to outsource institutional services to other organizations. Organizations operating under the school official exception cannot access PII unless they demonstrate a “legitimate educational interest,” or an education-based reason for why they need access to the information.
The studies exception applies to those who are conducting research on behalf of a school in order to develop, validate, or administer predictive tests; administer student aid programs; or improve instruction.
The audit or evaluation exception allows for the use of PII to evaluate the effectiveness of federal- and state-funded education programs and/or to ensure such programs meet their respective legal requirements.
Like many states, Delaware has been collecting a broad range of education data for quite some time, data that could be used to conduct robust analyses and inform policy and practice. Until recently, however, the state lacked the analytic capacity to turn those data into useful information. You know the expression: Delaware was “data rich, but information poor.” Now, with the help of a data strategist, Delaware is transforming its data into useful information to make well-informed policy decisions.