Student and Teacher Records: What are the Privacy Rules?

By Matthew Lynch

Personal histories and records exist for every student who attends, and every teacher who teaches, at a school.  This history, in the form of school records, test scores and the opinion of teachers and mentors, can have a huge impact on a student’s future. In some cases, it is on the basis of these assessments about an individual’s potential and overall disposition that life-changing decisions are made about them.

These histories could determine what colleges they attend, the privileges that they are allowed, or even the jobs that may eventually be able to attain. It’s important, then, for these records to be maintained properly and justly and be void of impartial or biased content.

School records and who should have access to them was first realized in the 1970s when instances of parents and students being denied access to them came into the spotlight. The passing of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (or the Buckley Amendment, as it is popularly known) by the U.S. Congress in 1974 was the first federal piece of legislation that expressly addressed what students could and could not access.

The Act makes clear who may have access to a student’s records and who may not. The move was largely beneficial for parents who were previously denied access to records that were very likely to affect their children’s lives.  The Act made it mandatory for schools to share all information about students with their parents, when requested.  It also required schools to explain or interpret the recorded observations to parents, with the failure to do so resulting in federal funds being denied to the school. At the same time, the Act serves in the best interests of teachers.  It clearly denies parents the right to inspect a teacher’s or an administrator’s unofficial records.

The Buckley amendment applies to all schools that receive federal money.  The act has been a promising step in ensuring transparency in dealing with and handling student’s records.  Aspects of the Act, such as the confidentiality granted to both parties, and fundamental fairness, make it stand out as a reformative measure in ensuring the right to privacy for individuals wanting to be educated.

Here is how the FERPA Act empowers parents and guardians and puts them in a better position than they were previously:

  • Parents and guardians can inspect their child’s school records.
  • The Act ensures that information about students under 18 years of age cannot be passed on without parental consent.
  • Parents have the right to challenge the accuracy of information at any point in time and to request a hearing to contest such information.
  • A legal route to get corrections made in children’s school records and to place a statement of disagreement in student regards too is now open to parents.
  • Parents can single-handedly decide who can access the information about their child.
  • In cases where parents find any discrepancies, they can always file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education to seek relief in the civil courts.

It is important for schools, parents and students to realize the importance of what is contained in teacher and student records, while still having reasonable access to both.

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