FERPA – It’s the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act established in 1974 to protect the privacy and confidentiality of students and families.  I normally wouldn’t consider this blog material but I found myself with a group of educators this week talking FERPA.  Exciting, I know.  The conversation included a few horror stories of poor judgement and a few nuggets of advice.  I thought I’d share some of these stories in the form of a Letterman style list.  Without further ado, here are the top ten ways for a teacher to violate FERPA (I was a bit incredulous at first, but it turns out each of these examples actually happened):

  1. When you are out grocery shopping and you run into a parent who happens to ask about the discipline of a student who is not their own, share away.  Discuss the other student and the disciplinary action taken.
  2. While you are at it, share the details of the student’s IEP to explain why said disciplinary actions were appropriate.
  3. If you happen to print an extra copy of a student’s educational record that contains info on the placement of this student in special education, no need to shred it.  Just put it in the trashcan next to the office copier.
  4. If you are trying to save trees, look in the trash can next to the office copier for scratch paper.  It doesn’t matter what’s on the paper – you can still use it for a class art project.  Be sure to send these art projects home with students so that the confidential information can make it’s way into several families’ homes in your area.
  5. If you happen to hear some gossip about other kids at your own children’s school (not the school where you teach), seek out a teacher that you know at that school and see what dirt you can dig up.
  6. If you are sought out by a parent who is curious about some discipline issues at your school and who happens to teach at another school, feel free to share openly.  I mean, you are both teachers so it’s fine.
  7. Keep students’ confidential information on your laptop in an unprotected folder.
  8. If someone needs to borrow your laptop for a school related event, give it freely.  It’ll be fine.  What are the chances they are going to look at files they shouldn’t?
  9. Taking attendance can be hard for a teacher. Instead of doing it yourself, simply give access to your TAs and have them take care of it.  Yes, there is confidential information in there but I’m sure your TAs are pretty trustworthy.
  10. And the number one way for a teacher to violate FERPA is… When you need to print IEP information or other sensitive student data, print it to the shared printer that is in one of your colleague’s classrooms.  Then, knowing that any student could pick it up accidentally, send a TA over to grab it before it falls into the wrong hands.

You may be thinking what I was thinking when I first heard these examples — something like, “Are you kidding me? All of these seem like common sense.  Some of them actually sound a bit like a sitcom – IEPs going home as part of student art projects?!?”  But it sounds like these thing happen a lot more than I would have expected.  One of our responsibilities as educators is to protect student information and keep it private.  We need to work hard to make sure that we (and the educators with whom we interact) are working hard to protect this information.

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