Published by MoASBO, September 2016

A local bakery calls your elementary school and asks the front office for a list of names of all students in the school along with their home address so that they can send out promotional materials about a birthday special they are running.  Should your school share this information with the local business?  The answer depends on what your school designates as directory information under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).

In general, FERPA prohibits school districts from disclosing personally identifiable information from student educational records without the consent of a parent or eligible student unless an exception to FERPA’s consent rule applies.  One such exception is the disclosure of pre-designated “directory information.” See 34 CFR § 99.31(a)(11).  In accordance with FERPA, your school, via Board Policy, has designated what it considers directory information that can be shared with the public.  Becoming familiar with and educating your staff about this policy and reviewing the policy annually to determine if it currently reflects the needs of your students and community is a best practice and strongly recommended.

FERPA defines “directory information” as information contained in the education records of a student who would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. 34 CFR § 99.3. Typically, “directory information” includes information such as name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, and dates of attendance. 34 CFR § 99.3. However, each school has the discretion to review what information it wants to reveal about students to the public and designate its own directory information.  Indeed, schools may determine that they do not want to release student directory information at all (however, this would preclude distribution of student address books, yearbook photos, and sports information, etc…).  Also, per 34 CFR § 99.37(d), a school district may adopt a limited directory information policy and create categories of what information it will share with different groups of people.  For example, a school may want to provide student addresses to those within the school community, but not with the general public. With the accessibility of student information online, it may be a good idea to protect student addresses from the general public and to create a directory information policy that protects student contact information from those outside the school community.

It is at each school district’s discretion to decide what directory information it wants to release and to whom.  However, once directory information is designated, notice must be given to parents and eligible students of:

(1) The types of personally identifiable information that the school has designated as directory information;

(2) A parent’s or eligible student’s right to refuse to let the school designate any or all of those types of information about the student as directory information; and

(3) The period of time within which a parent or eligible student has to notify the school in writing that he or she does not want any or all of those types of information about the student designated as directory information.  34 CFR § 99.37.

The means of notification of a school’s directory information could include publication in a newsletter, in a local newspaper, or in the student handbook.  Ideally, this notice should be part of back-to-school paperwork and the registration process. The U.S. Department of Education provides a sample model notice for disclosure of directory information at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/mndirectoryinfo.html.  If a parent opts out of the release of directory information for their child, careful record of such opt out should be maintained and proper parties within the District should be notified that directory information about the child may not be released.

Please note that for foster care students, you must discuss the matter with the foster student’s case worker before agreeing to release student records or photos to a third party (i.e., publish in yearbook or school’s social media).  Therefore, if you have a foster care child enroll, it is recommended that you ask the foster parent to provide release in writing from the child’s case worker stating that the school can share directory information, photos, etc.,…about this student.

Also, each year you should educate your teachers and front office professionals as to what your directory information policy is and what they can and should reveal to outside parties about their students.  By providing the proper notification regarding directory information and making sure your staff is aware of your policies, you will minimize the risk of improperly revealing student information.