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Understanding FERPA QT66

Posted by on May 8, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



The school publication will follow the Family Educational Rights and PrIvacy Act (FERPA) as defined by the Student Press Law Center.

Social media post/question:

What information is protected under FERPA?

Key Points/Action

FERPA does limit the specific information schools can release about students, but it doesn’t restrict schools from releasing information in aggregate or without student names attached. When schools use the generic term of “Data Privacy” as a justification for not releasing important records, student journalists must know their rights and know what to ask for.


School publication staffs must become familiar with the FERPA laws and their own state’s data privacy laws in order to ensure they can receive as much information as possible in their reporting on the school community.


Many high school journalists have a tough time getting important information and records released to them because the administrators improperly hide behind the FERPA laws or even more generically, they claim data privacy. This leads to stonewalling of students and hiding of data such as discipline information, student performance, crime and safety on campus, and many other topics which would help inform the community. Student publications must know their rights in order to get the best and the most pertinent information in telling the stories of their school



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‘No publication’ guidelines

Posted by on Jul 7, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Foundations_mainEthical guidelines
Know your rights and responsibilities in terms of capturing images on school property and at school events. “Do not publish” contracts apply to schools, not student media.

At the very least, get a copy of the list of students whose parents request photos not to be used and try to avoid taking their pictures. An alternative would be to communicate with parents about what such a ban means to student media.

Staff manual process
Student journalists should create a list of discussion points to share with parents who indicate their students are on a school’s no publication list.

• Students appearing in public activities and public places have little expectation of privacy
• Students whose images are available to commercial media should also be available to student media
• Students who are omitted from student media without justifiable reason could lose an important record of their lives

NOTE: FERPA does not apply in this situation although schools might argue it does, which could create a censorship situation. At that point it becomes a censorship issue. Try to persuade the school it is not doing the right thing.

NOTE: If your publication is prior reviewed, it is possible FERPA could apply because students do not make the final decisions.


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Scholastic journalists often
face demands like Delauter’s

Posted by on Jan 9, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Mark Goodman
I strongly encourage every student publication adviser being told his or her students can’t use names or photos in their print or online publications because of FERPA (or some other manufactured privacy justification) to read the Frederick News Post’s editorial on this crazy Frederick County council member, Kirby Delauter, and his demand for media not to use his name without permission.
The parallels between this guy’s demand (now rescinded) and what many high school journalists experience is remarkable.  How do you write about students at school and the public things they do there if you can’t identify them?
Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh said it best (he’s quoted in the editorial):
Uh, Council Member: In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avantgarde experiment, to be sure, but we’ve had some success with it.” You know, that whole First Amendment thing.
Wish we could convey that message to more school officials and their attorneys.
For additional information:
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Fighting FERPA with facts

Posted by on Dec 5, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Projects, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Mark Goodman
As noted in the JEA SPRC blog in September, the Student Press Law Center is taking on schools that misuse FERPA in a new and powerful way.  Scholastic journalists can get in on the action.

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  It’s the federal law enacted in 1974 to regulate the release by educational institutions of student “education records.”  FERPA sought to put an end to schools releasing student grades and other academic records without the student’s permission  (or the permission of parents if the student is a minor).  It also sought to ensure that students (and parents) had a right to see their own records maintained by the school. The penalty for non-compliance with FERPA is the risk of loss of federal funding.

But as many student journalists and advisers know, FERPA has become a monster, something much bigger than what its legislative sponsors ever intended. Over the years, schools have learned they can use the law as justification for refusing to provide all sorts of information they might rather not reach the media or the public.

From crime reports about college athletes to the signers of petitions submitted to a public school board, schools across the nation have used FERPA as the perfect excuse for denying information to the public.

The SPLC and advocates for open government are now saying, “no more.  Their FERPA Fact website chronicles the growing number of misuses of FERPA made by schools and exposes those that are inaccurate interpretations of the law.  The site is a great source of story ideas for scholastic journalists.

It also is a good reminder to high school reporters and editors not to presume every time FERPA gets thrown in their face, the justification is a valid one.

If FERPA has been used as a justification for denying your staff records maintained by your school, submit your story for a FERPA Fact “fact checking.”  You might get the arguments you need to counter your school’s denial.



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First Amendment issues in the news

Posted by on Jun 1, 2009 in News | 0 comments


Those interested in the latest First Amendment incidents and issues should note the following links:

• Student literary magazine recalled, then sold with permission. See first article and then the followup.

• Racial Comment in School Paper Sparks Discipline. See this article.

• Glendale Union school’s newspaper, district battle over censorship. See the article.

• Sixth Grader’s Project About Harvey Milk Censored by School. See the article.

• Secrecy 101: FERPA applied beyond intent. See the article.

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