In The US, Do [Public] School Kids Get Privacy Protections?

Mrs. Homie and I are “couples friends” with the local high school art teacher and her husband. “Bess” has mentioned, in conversation, some of the goings-on with the kids she teaches, and doesn’t hesitate to name names. Mostly stuff like “I had to give JimBob Bullitt detention for trying to gut a fish in class” or “JennySue Simmons is a really good painter.”

Putting aside school policy for the moment, is she breaking the law (which will undoubtedly vary by state, and in case you’re wondering, this is Missouri)? I know that if Bess were employed by a hospital and she mentioned a patient’s name, even obliquely, she could be fired. Do public school kids get similar protection?

I should note that nothing Bess has told me rises above the level of mundane dinner-table conversation. She’s not giving me the kids’ class schedules (possibly useful information to a noncustodial parent) or medicine lists or grades or home addresses.

What say you, Doper parents of kids in public schools? Are the school staff at your kids’ schools bound by privacy rules?

Legally, no. Professionally, yes. Although your example of a disciplinary action might (and likely is) over the line legally. But as a professional I try to refrain from giving any identifying information when talking about students in a non-school setting.

20 years ago I highly doubt would have gotten fired in your hospital example, not for simply talking with friends and spouse anyway, even if they told a lot more than just the name. Thing done got more strict in recent years.

I sure hope no one’s getting fired for yakking about their students with their spouse and friends. That’s crazy. What’s next, you can’t talk about your coworkers by name?

My parents certainly never hesitated to talk about their students in the manner described in the OP, and neither have any other teachers I’ve known.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) became law during the Ford administration. According to the Dept. or Education, disciplinary actions for non-criminal acts committed by a student are covered, as are things like grades, etc. Generally only “directory information”; things like name, address, phone number, honors received, etc. Basically, stuff that isn’t likely to damage a reputation or contribute to harm.

I’ve always questioned the address/phone number bit… times have changed since the 70s. On the other hand, the PTA may, for example, need that information in order conduct business.

I’ve audited at least one university on FERPA compliance… it was a huge fail-whale.

When my wife taught she never used a student’s name in conversation with me, but she was a Special Ed teacher and they have their own set of rules.

The OP’s example is a major violation of Federal law. Only a complete and total idiot would be so ignorant of the law to pass on such protected information.

OTOH, people who don’t know or don’t care about the law are extremely common.

E.g., at one college I taught at, professors posted names and final grades outside their doors to about 1990 before the school changed over to a “better” system of SSNs and grades. Since these were still sorted alphabetically, it didn’t take much effort to find another student’s grade as well as SSN. (I never did either which upset the students, oddly enough. Never mind that I explained I was following Federal law and all that.)


Actually, the real problem is the inverse: more and more, schools have turned their interior operation into a secret, even from parents of children in the classroom. Except under very few circumstances, parents have a right to know and observe everything that happens with their child during the day. Increasingly, schools are firewalling parental observation and making up rules that prevent parents from knowing how day to day classroom activities progress.

Things like HIPAA and right to privacy are often cited, in a vague way, and since parents of school age children tend to be on the young and dumb side, they swallow the nonsense.

This is a little more prevalent with special needs classes and the like, but Mrs. B. has observed hundreds of classrooms in dozens of schools that are more carefully guarded against parent “intrusion” than some hospital record rooms.

NEVER accept any bullshit from your kids’ school that you don’t have a right to see everything and anything you wish to related to your child’s education. All they are doing is making sure no one sees how incompetent many teachers and school administrations are.

I’ve never heard of parents being kept out of the loop on anything. Most teachers I know would love to get the parents more aware of what’s going on.

There are still some absurd cases, though. For instance, I’m a substitute teacher. I’m not allowed to know what’s in any student’s IEP (individual education plan, for students with special needs of some sort), but I am required to follow them. I’m not sure how this is officially supposed to be resolved, but in practice, there’s usually an aide in the room who does know what’s in the IEPs, and can give case-by-case instructions on what needs to be done.

That’s some catch, that Catch-22!

Well around here anyway - in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business and the kids’ parents all went to the same school when they were kids - I imagine such things as Student “Privacy” are treated with a wink and a nod, up to a point. Like I said, Bess would never dream of giving a kid’s medical info or anything. But talking around the dinner table about JimBob Bullitt’s shenanigans is seen as normal dinner conversation - especially since Mrs. Homie went to school With JoeBob Bullitt (JimBob’s daddY), who also likely got detention for gutting fish in art class.

I also immediately thought this sounded like a FERPA issue. I only know a little about FERPA due to being in information security/compliance and being an adjunct instructor at a university. So, I’m definitely no expert. But it sounds to me like a FERPA violation.

Aside: if you audit almost any university on almost any compliance requirement, it will be a giant fail-whale. At least in terms of information security, higher education is a cluster fuck.

ETA: my wife and I both deal with very confidential stuff in our jobs. Every night, we manage to tell each other about our day without using names or saying anything we shouldn’t. It’s not that hard.

Just to add, many schools (ab)use FERPA to withhold important information from students’ teachers.