Maintaining the Confidentiality of Student Records

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  • 0:04 Importance of Discretion
  • 0:53 FERPA
  • 2:46 IDEA
  • 3:24 Best Practices
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

How do you preserve student records in a way that protects their confidentiality? This article discusses the laws regulating private student information and best practices for compliance.

Importance of Discretion

You're a teacher and recently the local news ran a story about one of your students. The student claims that she was unfairly disciplined and suspended. The locals are in an uproar. They're calling for your head! However, you know that student had a history of discipline problems and disrupted your classroom constantly. You pull her disciplinary file and think, ''If I just gave this to the local news, everyone would understand. I'll just black out her name so they won't know she's the one I'm talking about.''

Bad idea! Generally speaking, you have a duty to protect the privacy and confidentiality of your students. If you don't, your school could lose its funding. But how do you comply?

Before you can maintain student confidentiality, you have to know what's considered confidential. The two main laws that protect the privacy and confidentiality of student records are FERPA and IDEA.


The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is the big one. It applies to all school districts that receive federal funds that must comply to continue to receive funding. Generally, anything defined as an educational record must be kept confidential and private. FERPA defines an educational record as any material about students documented in any way, including written by hand, saved on a computer or an audio recording.

Some of the things it does not include are your personal notes if they're not revealed to anyone else (except a substitute teacher), records of school safety officers, non-student personnel records, and records made by or received by a school after the student no longer attends the institution. Personally identifiable information includes names of students and their family members, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth, and anything that would enable someone in the community to figure out who the student is. Records can only be released if a parent consents or the student himself, if he is over 18 or in a postsecondary institution.

There are a few exceptions, however. You can reveal information as necessary in a medical emergency or to obey a court order or subpoena. When a student transfers, you can provide records to the new school. You can share records with authorized representatives of the federal and your state government when necessary to show compliance with the law, or to educational groups doing studies to improve tests or teaching generally.

In the last two exceptions, you don't need to obtain prior consent but you will need to enter into an agreement, in writing, with the person receiving the records and information that explains the purpose and breadth of information being shared. You also need to clearly state that the disclosed records will only be used for limited purposes. Include provisions directing that the recipient maintain the confidentiality of shared records and destroy the records when no longer needed.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) applies to children with disabilities. It uses the same definition of an educational record as FERPA, and while the definition of personally identifiable information is not as explicit as FERPA's, it broadly includes any information that would allow someone to identify a student with a fair amount of confidence. IDEA requires schools to make sure that educational records and personally identifiable information remain confidential. Schools need parental consent to disclose personally identifiable information except to other educational agencies when necessary, to carry out the purposes of the act.

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