Does FERPA prevent me from reporting on a fight between students at my school?

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.”

Q: Does FERPA prevent me from reporting on a fight that took place on my campus between two students?

A: No. FERPA punishes schools that have a policy or practice of disclosing a student’s education records without the permission of the student. First of all, the mere fact that a fight happened at your school is not something that can reasonably be considered an education record. If students were disciplined and those records went into particular students’ files, that may be considered an education record that you would likely not get access to, but reporting on the fact that a fight happened in general is fair game. You can interview witnesses, ask school officials for a statement, and any of the other things you’d do in the normal course of reporting on an event. 

Additionally, a student journalist cannot violate FERPA in the first place because student journalists are not employees of the school. The law applies only to school employees or their agents, not student-generated news pieces. 

Legal questions should be directed toward SPLC’s legal hotline. Ask SPLC questions will be selected based on trends in the legal hotline. The legal hotline is confidential and no identifying information will be used in the Ask SPLC segment.

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