Anonymous writes to SPPO again!

Not everything that happens at school is protected by confidentiality laws. Not everything that students do has to be kept secret.  Consider: a student threatens to kill a teacher.  The teacher, not surprisingly, tells her husband about this.  The husband encounters the student at a gun range, of all places, and lets the student know that he heard about the threat.  According to “Anonymous” this was a FERPA violation.  More specifically, Anonymous asserted that the teacher violated FERPA when she told her husband about this.  Was that a FERPA violation?

No, according to the Student Privacy Policy Office (SPPO).  The critical portion of the SPPO response to this complaint reads as follows:

FERPA does not protect the confidentiality of information in general, and, therefore, does not apply to the disclosure of information derived from a source other than education records, even if education records exist which contain that information. As a general rule, information that is obtained through personal knowledge or observation, and not from an education record, is not protected from disclosure under FERPA.

The SPPO qualifies that statement by pointing out that FERPA would protect information that is based on personal observation if the person who made the disclosure also “had an official role in making a determination that generated a protected education record.”  Example: a teacher has personal knowledge of the grade given to a student, but the teacher cannot disclose that grade because the teacher also generated the education record where the grade is recorded. A principal who suspended a student has personal knowledge of the suspension but is also the person who generated the record of suspension.