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Balancing Student Privacy and Student Protection, From Harassment

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Balancing Student Privacy/Protection From Harassment – Many parents of school-aged children in public schools are familiar with the rule that schools are not permitted to disclose sensitive information about students without parental consent.  For example, usually at the start of each school year, schools notify parents that certain student information, e.g. name, address, and telephone number, might be included in a school directory and that parents have the option of redacting this information from the directory. The notice stems from the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is intended to ensure parental control over what information is and is not shared by their child’s school.  Under the act, grades, disciplinary actions, and communications between teachers and administrators about individual students are all presumptively confidential and such information cannot be publicized without parental consent.

Duty Under Other Federal Civil Rights Laws

However, schools also have a duty under other federal civil rights laws (protecting disabled, female, and minority students for example) to intervene in cases of peer-on-peer harassment.  Parents of victimized students make complaints to the school under these laws, and the school is required to conduct investigations and take remedial action.  What is the victim student/parent entitled to know about the school’s investigation of the alleged harasser, and what may they know about the school’s actions taken when the Privacy Act remains in force?

The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance as to how schools should balance the competing interests. The Department instructs that schools must inform students/parents complaining of harassment as to the outcomes of their investigations, in other words, whether or not harassment was found to have occurred.  The Department further instructs that any sanction issued by a school to the harasser may be disclosed to the complainant where the sanction directly relates to finding harassment.  The Department recognizes that disclosure of sanction information may be crucial to enforcement of the sanction, particularly where the harasser has been ordered to stay away from the victim.

If you or your child have experienced harassment in school, or have had information inappropriately disclosed by a school, we invite you to contact us for a free initial consultation. Call at (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.