Strategies for Accessing Heath Information in Schools

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  • 0:03 Why Health Information Matters
  • 0:43 Legitimate Educational…
  • 1:57 FERPA
  • 2:45 Best Interest
  • 3:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As teachers and administrators, we often wonder about students' physical health and well-being. This lesson discusses what it means to access health information in safe and legal ways in the school setting.

Why Health Information Matters

Gina has been teaching fifth grade for more than a decade, and each year, she has a few students she worries about more than others. This is often because she has questions about their health. These students might be those with severe allergies, those who are taking medications, or those who miss a great deal of school due to medical issues they might have. Gina often finds herself wondering more about her students' medical situations, so that she can help them.

She decides to meet with the school nurse to learn more about their health information, which is information about students' medical status and needs. She also wants to learn what kind of information she does and doesn't have access to and why.

Legitimate Educational Interest

The school nurse explains to Gina that the administrators and medical staff at any school get to determine whether it is in the legitimate educational interest of a student for teachers to know about their medical diagnoses, allergies, or other health needs. A legitimate educational interest occurs when having a teacher or other school staff know about the medical need is directly related to that person's capacity to educate the student, discipline them, or provide educational services.

For example, last year, Gina taught a student who had severe allergies to peanuts. Gina knew about the allergy because in order for this fifth grader to be able to learn and participate safely in school activities, she had to maintain a peanut-free classroom.

This year, Gina has a student who has absence seizures, which cause her to look zoned out sometimes in class. It's in the student's legitimate educational interest for Gina to know about this condition, because Gina can learn strategies for handling a seizure, and can refrain from punishing the student for inattention when she's in fact having a medical episode. On the other hand, if a student in Gina's class has HIV which is treated outside of school, it might actually be irrelevant to the child's experience in school, and it isn't Gina's right to know about the condition or its treatment.


The nurse explains that students' rights to privacy are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This act, passed in 1974, is relevant to Gina's school, and any other school that receives federal funding.

Gina learns that FERPA mandates that personally identifiable information about students cannot be publicly disclosed. In other words, Gina can't access records that identify what has happened to her students medically in past years unless a school official deems that it's in their legitimate educational interest for her to know.

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