The U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (“PTAC”) released new guidance earlier this month relative to school safety and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”). The document, which spans 22 pages and contains 37 questions and responses, is intended to shed light on how school officials should treat the disclosure of student information with school safety personnel and in emergency situations. PTAC’s guidance covers FERPA’s basic requirements and how they impact various security‑based issues. Generally speaking, the guidance addresses the general requirements of FERPA, disclosures of personally identifiable information from students’ education records without written consent, law enforcement unit and law enforcement unit records, the use of local police officers and school resource officers as school law enforcement unit officials, the release of information that is not considered an education record, and other exceptions to FERPA’s general consent rule relative to school safety (e.g. exceptions for judicial orders or subpoenas, transfers to new schools, and those related to the juvenile justice system).
The release of PTAC’s guidance comes as no surprise, as its release more or less marks the one year anniversary of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Although the shooting is hardly the first of its kind, it sparked a renewed wave of school security discussions and measures. Attorneys practicing in school law received a spike in questions from school districts related to school security and the manner in which various state and federal laws impact the options available to school districts. In light of the focus on school security, PTAC’s guidance is timely and should be used by school attorneys and personnel alike. As always, Lusk Albertson recommends that any questions not answered by the guidance should be directed to legal counsel. The guidance may be accessed here.