Privacy of Personal Information at School

Personal information privacy is a vital issue. The Digital Age combined with the rising incidence of identity theft makes your ability to control your personal information critical to your financial security. Who should be able to give out your personal information? What information should a business tell others about its customers? What should a school tell others about a student or their family?

Consider the following:

Reluctantly, your sister has joined the middle school basketball team. Your parents have urged her to do this to get more exercise. Your sister is slightly overweight and feels embarrassed and stressed about it. The team boosters create a program each year that is sold as a fund raiser at the games. The coach gives them the roster and data about each player. It includes each player's height and weight.

Your brother is having a tough time at school. He is struggling, in part, because a group of students are bullying him. He enjoys using the Internet to play games because the other players treat him well. Your school's yearbook advisor is asking for email addresses. She plans to publish them in the yearbook. The addresses will be sent to a company that publishes the yearbook for your school.

Your uncle (mother's brother) was recently convicted of embezzling twenty thousand dollars from a local charity. It was front page news for weeks. You felt so shocked and disgusted by what he did. The good news is no one knows he is your uncle and you want to keep it that way. Since your last name is different from his, no one has made the connection. Your mother uses her maiden name. There is a strike at the school's bus company. The school wants to help families contact each other to arrange to share rides. They plan to put all the directory info on the school's website.

You enjoy playing in the local health club's soccer league. You do not feel the pressure that you would feel on the high school's team. The soccer booster club for the varsity team contacts the school asking for information about all the students. Their goal is to involve as many kids as possible. They are especially interested in the students who play soccer. They want to make a soccer mailing list for the community. They plan to use the list to solicit donations and to contact these families during fund raisers.

You are diabetic. Your blood sugars are hard to control. Your doctor wants to know what you are eating at school. She plans to help you make better food choices. Her kids attend your school. She knows that they have a card payment system that records each purchase. She asks the school for a copy of your lunch choices for the past month.

Ever since your grandfather told you he was gay, you have felt upset and confused. The school guidance counselor suggests you join the school's Tolerance Club. Everyone "knows" all the members must be gay. You take her advice. Your scout leader works at the elementary school. He goes to the high school office and asks for all your info. He is planning a ceremony to recognize you for earning Eagle Scout rank. He intends to use the info to write a nice introduction about you listing all your activities and accomplishments.

Your parents have gotten a new home phone number. They did this to protect you from three kids who have been bullying you since 7th grade. These kids know you are home alone for a couple hours after school. They have been calling over and over harassing you. Your family has agreed to only give the number to a few people, family members and critical organizations like school and work.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) are the federal government's answers to some of these questions. It gives schools guidelines about how to handle student information. The law has a catch. Each school decides what is "directory" information. They can freely release this "directory" information as long as they give each student the opportunity to control the information's release.

Develop a process regarding how this directory information is defined.

What information should be included?

Who should have input?

What should be released?

What controls should be in place?

Should families be allowed to Opt-in? Or should they be required to Opt-out?

When should the student be able to overrule their parent(s)?


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developed by Cynthia J. O'Hora Released to public domain and Posted 7/2006

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