Supreme Court agrees to hear FERPA case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a school district’s appeal of a federal court ruling that said peer grading violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the Buckley Amendment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in October 2000 that the common practice of allowing students to grade each other’s work violates FERPA, a federal law that keeps student “education records” private.

The case began in 1998 when Kristja Falvo, a mother of three children attending school in the Owasso Independent School District in Owasso, Okla., sued the district. Falvo began complaining to school administrators about the grading practice in 1997 when she learned that several of her children’s teachers were allowing students to grade one another’s work and call out their grades in class, which she said caused her children embarrassment. The district told Falvo that students always had the option of reporting their grades to their teachers privately and refused to stop the practice.

Falvo argued that the practice violated FERPA and the 14th Amendment. The appeals court found that although peer grading did not violate the 14th amendment, it is prohibited by FERPA.

“The circuit’s reasoning was that the grading practice resulted in the disclosure of an education record and that such disclosures were prohibited,” said Karen Long, attorney for the school district. Long said she expects the case to be heard sometime during the Supreme Court’s next term, which begins in October.

The case will mark the first time the Court has interpreted the application of this federal law passed in 1974.

SPLC VIEW: It is likely that the decision in this case — which concerns a classroom grading practice — will have no direct impact on student media. Nevertheless, administrative confusion over FERPA has created headaches for a growing number of student media programs (see the article, “FERPA Fundamentalism,” in the Spring 2001 issue of the SPLC Report for more information) so any action by the Supreme Court will need to be closely monitored. In August, the SPLC joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in filing a friend-of-the-court brief before the Court that argued, in part, that student media should not be subject to FERPA’s restrictions.

Case: Owasso Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Falvo, 233 F.3d 1203 (10th Cir. 2000), cert. granted, 121 S.Ct. 2547 (2001).