Those classroom displays: do they violate FERPA?

We’ve got one of those “Letters to Anonymous” to tell you about today.  Good old Anonymous continues to provide fodder for the Daily Dawg with these letters to the Student Privacy Policy Office (SPPO) which was previously known as the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO).  This one is about a teacher who displayed student work on the walls of the classroom for all to see, including parents who might visit the classroom on Back to School night. From the letter it sounds like the teacher also left the grades on the student work.  Is that OK?

The SPPO sorta dodged the issue by telling Anonymous that the complaint was “lacking in sufficient clarity” for it to make a ruling. Nevertheless, the letter suggests that this complaint lacks merit. Consider this portion of the SPPO’s response:

FERPA is not, on the other hand, intended to interfere with a school’s or a classroom teacher’s, ability to carry out what are generally considered to be normal and legitimate educational activities and functions.  Thus, a thoughtful, common sense, and flexible approach is necessary in judging the impact of some classroom activities on a student’s right to privacy and vice versa. 

Further, FERPA would not prohibit teachers from allowing students to grade a test or homework assignment of another student or from calling out that grade in class, even though such grade may eventually become an education record.  Such papers being graded and the grades which will be assigned would fall outside the FERPA definition of education records as they are not, strictly speaking, “maintained” by an educational agency or institution at that point, which means they are not yet “education records”….

FERPA is not intended to prevent teachers from livening up and personalizing their drab classroom walls with examples of student art or other projects.  Such displays serve a legitimate educational purpose by positively reinforcing the students and providing examples of good work.  Putting the grade on the work does raise a separate issue, though, and seems unnecessary.  The Dawg is sure that principals and teachers have the wisdom to use the “thoughtful, common sense, and flexible approach” recommended here by SPPO. 

It’s Letter to Anonymous, published by the Student Privacy Policy Office on February 28, 2020 and reported in Special Ed Connection at 120 LRP 18036.