Sunday, September 09, 2007

Informative Article in Ed Week on FERPA

This article was published in Education Week about FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and its regulations. This review of it follows up on confusion over what Virginia Tech could or could not have done to prevent the tragedy that occurred under these regulations. (A FERPA form is sent home in every first-day packet in our District.)

From the article:

"At the K-12 level, FERPA generally allows parents to review their children’s educational records. Parents also must consent to the release of records that contain personally identifiable information. Once a student turns 18, or starts college, those rights transfer from the parent to the student.

Under FERPA, schools are allowed, however, to release information from education records to parents if the health or safety of a student is at stake, or if the parents claim the student as a dependent on federal income-tax forms.

At Virginia Tech, concern over violating privacy laws appears to have prevented some officials from sharing information with Mr. Cho’s parents and other organizations within the university that they were actually allowed to disclose, according to the review panel.

For instance, while FERPA protects student records maintained by the educational institution, it does not apply to a professor’s personal observations of a student’s behavior, according to guidance provided by the federal Education Department that is included as an appendix to the panel’s report.

In Mr. Cho’s case, several professors in the English department were aware that he had written violent stories and had taken pictures of students during class without their permission. They could have contacted Mr. Cho’s parents with that information without violating FERPA, the report says." (Italics mine.)

4 comments:

classof75 said...

I agree that the tragedy at Virginia Tech may have been prevented had the different groups who were concerned and shocked by Chos behavior , able to share their knowledge with others.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/26/AR2007082601410.
html

Dorothy said...

We aren't just talking about confusion over FERPA, but also confusion over HIPPA. These are big and real laws with serious consequences for violating them. Unfortunately it will take tragedies like this one to help people sort out what to do and not to do to obey the law, uphold privacy of information where appropriate *and* maintain safety.

The very same day that the Virginia Tech Report was released, NPR did a story about the mental health crisis in New Orleans. There are something like a dozen mental health beds in the entire city. This is bad, probably worse than other cities, but is not that uncommon a story. So even if everyone had shared how disturbed this young man seemed to be, what would have happened to him? As far as anyone knew, he had broken no laws. Did we have the mental health resources to help him and protect people from him full time for the rest of his life?

Unless we as a society do something drastically different with our mental health care system, we will not prevent all such tragic events. Heck, even *with* perfect mental health system, perfect understanding of privacy and safety rules, we cannot be guaranteed safety. Life has no guarantees.

Melissa Westbrook said...

What the article states is that the family of the shooter would have liked to know about his decline. Apparently they didn't see him in person a lot and if they had been notified (given that they knew he had problems), they might have been able to intervene. That's one step that might have changed the outcome.

Also, the school - every college and university - has a duty to notify staff and students when an incident occurs and let these adults make their own best judgment about what they want to do. The shooting had occurred and they did not know where the shooter was. They had no real evidence, only a hunch, as to who the shooter was and made a very bad assumption. If they had notified the school community (they didn't have to shut down the university) that a shooting had occurred on campus and the shooter was not yet apprehended, everyone could have made their own decisions on what to do. That might have made a difference in the outcome of that day.

No life isn't with guarantees but leaving people in the dark doesn't help.

Melissa Westbrook said...

What the article states is that the family of the shooter would have liked to know about his decline. Apparently they didn't see him in person a lot and if they had been notified (given that they knew he had problems), they might have been able to intervene. That's one step that might have changed the outcome.

Also, the school - every college and university - has a duty to notify staff and students when an incident occurs and let these adults make their own best judgment about what they want to do. The shooting had occurred and they did not know where the shooter was. They had no real evidence, only a hunch, as to who the shooter was and made a very bad assumption. If they had notified the school community (they didn't have to shut down the university) that a shooting had occurred on campus and the shooter was not yet apprehended, everyone could have made their own decisions on what to do. That might have made a difference in the outcome of that day.

No life isn't with guarantees but leaving people in the dark doesn't help.