Are Teachers Breaking the Rules Recording Students on Their Personal Cell Phones in Class?
Students’ education records are protected under FERPA. The term “education records” is defined, with certain exclusions, as those records that are directly related to a student and which are maintained by an educational agency or institution, or by a party acting for the agency or institution, to which funds have been made available under and program administered by the Secretary of Education.
Under FERPA, a school is prohibited from disclosing personally identifiable information from a child’s education records, without consent, unless the disclosure meets an exception to FERPA’s general consent requirement.
Any complaint must:
- be filed by a parent who maintains FERPA rights over the education records which are the subject of the complaint;
- be submitted to the SPPO within 180 days of the date of the alleged violation or of the date that the complainant knew or reasonably should have known of the alleged violation; and
- contain specific allegations of fact giving reasonable cause to believe that a violation of FERPA has occurred.
Ultimately, the parents failed to establish that the teacher’s recording qualified as part of the student’s education record and SPPO ruled that the videos did not violate FERPA. The SPPO maintained that the recordings did not focus on a specific student, but instead showed students participating in school activities without highlighting a particular student. They further noted that the SPPO has not issued formal guidance on the use of personal devices by school officials and the FERPA regulations do not specifically address this issue.
What Does this Mean for Your District?
While the SPPO determined that the recordings in this case were not prohibited under FERPA, SPPO did indicate that other laws protecting the confidentiality of information in general or personally identifiable student information could come into play. Great caution and care should be exercised by school officials when making recordings or taking photographs in a classroom to ensure that prior consent is obtained to ensure that no federal or state laws are violated.