School district says names of parents who sent emails, signed petitions are protected by FERPA
Earlier this year, a book about a family with two lesbian parents was taken off the library shelves and placed behind the counter at an elementary school in Utah. Students were allowed to check out the book with a permission slip from their parents. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued over the book’s placement. The Salt Lake Tribune asked to see the emails and petitions submitted by parents on both sides of the issue, which the school provided with the parents’ names redacted. The school district cited FERPA.
Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Emails show range of emotions surrounding book controversy (Nov. 13, 2012).
Former SPLC Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein: This is a tricky one. The names of parents are explicitly listed in the regulations as examples of personally identifiable information contained in education records. (See the definition of “personally identifiable information” in 34 C.F.R. Sec. 99.3.) But the same section has a definition of education records that say education records are those “directly related to a student” and “maintained by” the school. While the copy of the petition in the possession of the school is presumably something they maintain, query whether a petition signed by a student’s parent, with no other reference to the student, on an issue unrelated to the students’ education, is “directly related” to the student.
On the other hand, I haven’t seen the petition. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that a petition could contain information that is directly related to a student. For example, if a group of parents wanted to protest discipline imposed on all the members of a club, the fact that a parent had signed the petition would have information directly related to the discipline of the student.
So whether the names on a parent-circulated petition are FERPA-protected is going to depend on what the petition says and if that discloses information about the student children of the undersigned parents. The people circulating these petitions ought to make them available to the media directly to avoid any FERPA issues.
We rate this: a questionable use of FERPA