Education Data and the Law

Updated: Jul 16

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When working with educational data, it is important that you are up-to-speed on the various legal requirements related to student’s privacy. Educational data is extremely sensitive information and its protection and proper use should be the first priority of any data analyst. In this post, I will provide an overview of some of the key student privacy laws. I am not a lawyer, this post should not be interpreted as legal advice.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is the primary law that governs the privacy of student educational records. Generally, an educational record is any part of the students record generated by their school, district, or state. The primary foundation of FERPA is that only the parent (which is defined as a natural parent, guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a guardian) can access students private records.

There are a few exceptions to this rule as the records exist to support the functioning of the school itself. For example, school officials, such as teachers or administrators, have broad access to the records of students under their care but do not have access to student records for students in whom they do not have a “legitimate educational interest”. FERPA also allows a school to share student records with another school upon the enrollment of the student in their new school.

The “directory information” exception to FERPA often catches people by surprise. Schools may publish directory information, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, or enrollment status. Parents may opt out of being included in directory information releases.

As an educator, FERPA’s expectation is that you keep personally identifiable information about a student private. Student records should not be shared with those outside of the student’s scope of services. You must also take steps to protect from undue access to student data. For example, you should never leave student data sheets open on your computer while you are away and you should never email student information or store information in tools that may be accessible by those outside of your organization.

You can learn more details about FERPA here.

Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) deals with the collection and use of certain kinds of information from students. In short, parents and students have the right to consent, be notified, opt out of, and inspect most surveys, certain physical exams, and other specialized data collections.

The PPRA lists eight protected survey areas under which parents/students must give consent before participating in:

1. Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or students’ parent;

2. Mental or psychological problems of the student or student’s family;

3. Sex behavior or attitudes;

4. Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demanding behavior;

5. Critical appraisals of others with whom respondents have close family relationships;

6. Legally recognize privilege or analogous relationships, such as with lawyers, doctors, or ministries;

7. Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent; and

8. Income, other than as required by law to determine program eligibility.