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School Privacy

Student privacy rights are a crucial aspect of the education system. As technology evolves, the amount of student data collected, how it is used, and how to protect it is of paramount concern. Two key federal laws are the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These laws guide educational institutions' use and protection of student information.

People have the right to be free from intrusion into personal matters, even in a school setting. For example, the right to student privacy extends to education records. It also extends to admissions and conduct.

Usually, a student's privacy rights are respected. However, someone sharing a student's private information violates these rights. This can be a disclosure that happens without consent. Or it can be when a student faces an unauthorized search of their locker or backpack. Administrators often balance student privacy with the public's right to know. This is especially true when the case involves the safety of other students and community members.

This section includes information on school privacy matters. It also includes drug testing, school violence, and weapons at school. Choose from the links below to learn more.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Acts (FERPA) and Student Information

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law enacted by The U.S. Department of Education. This law helps safeguard student education records' privacy. It does this by setting rules for who can access this information.

The school district, school officials, and other educational agencies must get parental consent. They must get consent before sharing a student's personally identifiable information (PII). But an exception exists for what's termed “directory information." This information can be shared without consent unless parents opt out. An example of this type of information is the student's name.

School officials can also access student data. They can do so if they have a legitimate educational interest in accessing this data. This means the information is needed to perform tasks. These tasks might be a part of their job or the school's education program. Additionally, state law can affect how FERPA is used in each school district.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a crucial federal law. This law focuses on protecting the privacy of children under the age of 13. COPPA places stringent rules on operators of websites, online services, and mobile applications. These websites and applications must be either directed at children under 13 or knowingly collect personal information from minors under 13.

According to COPPA, these operators must clearly disclose their data collection practices. They should get verifiable parental consent. They should do this before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children. They must also allow parents to review their child's personal information. Parents can refuse further use or collection of that information.

This law safeguards young students' data privacy in the era of online learning. It ensures that their personal information is protected. But students can still enjoy the benefits of educational technologies.

Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) is a federal law. This law supplements FERPA and COPPA's provisions. PPRA helps ensure student rights protections in surveys, evaluations, assessments, and physical exams.

PPRA mandates that schools receiving federal funding obtain parental consent. These schools must get consent before requiring students to participate in surveys or assessments about sensitive topics. These topics may include political affiliations or mental or psychological problems. They can also include sexual behavior or attitudes and illegal or self-incriminating behavior.

Drug Testing: Background Information

Some high schools may perform drug tests on students. Yet, they must balance this with respect for student privacy rights. These rights are often interpreted differently from state to state. What is legal in one educational agency may not be in another. The legal issues often center around the Fourth Amendment. This law protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. It applies in a school setting.

Mandatory drug testing in public schools is a newer legal issue. It is an outgrowth of the 1980s "war on drugs." Before this, law enforcement officers only drug tested with probable cause. Schools began their own mandatory suspicionless drug testing programs, frequently focusing on student-athletes. A series of legal victories followed. These laws upheld the rights of schools to drug test students.

The Supreme Court supported suspicionless student drug testing in Vernonia v. Acton (1995). The court found the government had an interest in maintaining drug-free schools. They found this interest outweighed students' Fourth Amendment rights.

Following this decision, suspicionless drug testing programs in schools have flourished. A few states have banned suspicionless drug testing in schools. They did so out of concern that it would conflict with constitutional privacy protections. A trend in lower court rulings indicates that stronger student privacy protections might be the future.

Using Drug-Sniffing Dogs and Canine Units

Courts understand that using drug-sniffing dogs can cause concern to students. Some students raised Fourth Amendment concerns in this regard. But courts also found the school's interest in keeping a drug-free learning environment compelling.

Until recently, the use of drug-sniffing dogs was relatively uncontroversial. Courts viewed the evidence uncovered by dogs as legitimately acquired. This is under the "plain view" (or "plain sniff") doctrine. This doctrine allows the admission of any evidence left out in the open.

The smells, they reasoned, were out in the open for the dog's discovery. But Florida v. Jardines (2013) decision may signal a change in attitude. The U.S. Supreme Court decided that using a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner's porch with the intent to investigate the contents of the home was a "search." The Fourth Amendment covers this search. It requires a warrant. But this decision has not changed the legality of canine searches in schools. The warrant rule does not apply when the dog and handler are invited onto school grounds.

Schools may use drug-sniffing or canine units as a part of their special education or safety programs. Yet, using these resources to sniff out drugs must be carried out in a manner that respects students' privacy. It must conform to local, state, and federal laws.

Apps and Online Services in Education

As technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives, it becomes an integral part of a student's education. Apps and online services are now common tools used in classrooms to aid learning and improve educational outcomes. With this progression comes the need for strong data privacy and security measures.

Data collection is an inherent part of many mobile applications and online services. For instance, an educational app may collect student performance data. This might include information like test scores. This personalized learning can enhance a student's education. But the information gathered should remain private and protected.

Data privacy involves measures to ensure that only authorized parties can access student information. These measures include getting parental consent before data collection. It might also mean encrypting data during transmission and storage. It can also mean allowing parents and students with eligibility to review and correct information.

Data protection refers to safeguards to prevent unauthorized access and use. It also prevents unauthorized disclosure, disruption, modification, and destruction of information. This may involve using secure servers and firewalls to keep data safe. Schools and providers of these apps and services must adhere to laws like FERPA and COPPA.

Lastly, data security involves defending information from unauthorized access and cyber threats. This can include protective digital measures, such as encryption and strong password policies. It can also include physical security measures, like securing locations where data is stored.

Apps and online services can greatly enhance a student's education. These tools must be designed and used to protect students' privacy rights. School officials, educational institutions, and providers are all responsible. They should work together to protect students' data, privacy, security, and integrity.

Getting Legal Help for Violations of Student Privacy

If you believe your or your child's privacy rights have been violated, it's crucial to seek legal help. First, familiarize yourself with the U.S. Department of Education's FAQ. If you're still uncertain or need help, you may wish to contact a lawyer who concentrates in education law. Lawyers can help you navigate student privacy laws.

Still, attitudes toward searches continue to change. More privacy protections may be available on the state and local levels. Consult a local attorney for your area's most recent view of privacy protections. You can also speak to a local education agency for help.

Talk to an education attorney today.

Learn About School Privacy

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