I am on the road this week, now in Jackson Hole for the Oil & Gas Fair (stop by the WyLiberty booth, Booth #18, on Thursday or Friday if you’re attending).
On Tuesday, I joined Amy Edmonds in Cody for a radio appearance and event discussing Common Core, and was impressed with the efforts being made by local parents to understand and combat the so-called “standards.” My involvement with WyLiberty’s efforts surrounding Common Core has been limited due to other commitments, but other issues within Wyoming education are heating up and may set the stage for a legal fight.
Sometimes, to my surprise, federal law serves good purposes. One such law is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), originally passed in 1974. There is a lot of controversy surrounding recent regulations released by the federal Department of Education that reinterpret certain provisions of FERPA, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is in the midst of a lawsuit challenging these regulations. These new DOE regulations, unsurprisingly, attempt to circumvent the safeguards in FERPA and use the law to undermine family privacy rather than secure it.
But FERPA itself, despite perversions of it by the administrative state, is good law. Take, for example, this portion:
Any educational agency or institution making public directory information shall give public notice of the categories of information which it has designated as such information with respect to each student attending the institution or agency and shall allow a reasonable period of time after such notice has been given for a parent to inform the institution or agency that any or all of the information designated should not be released without the parent’s prior consent. (20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(5)(B))
This is a mouthful, but the concept is quite simple: any school receiving federal funds must inform parents of the directory information it keeps on students (such as name, address, telephone, place of birth, etc.) and give parents time to notify the school that any or all of that information should not be released without their prior consent.
As I discovered yesterday, though, Cody High School is not following the law.
At the beginning of this school year, the high school sent out a student privacy form, properly disclosing what it considers directory information. However, the form does not provide parents with the opportunity to restrict any directory information being released following consent, but merely to “restrict the release of all directory information.” (Emphasis added.) So, while FERPA allows parents to restrict specific directory information such as their child’s address, date of birth, and leave everything else unrestricted, Cody High School’s policy only allows parents an all-or-nothing option.
If this does not seem like a big deal, an additional flyer sent to parents shows the problem, and heavy-handedly at that: “If you sign the student privacy form, your son/daughter will not be listed in the Yearbook, school newspaper or any other print from Cody High School including the graduation program.” (Emphasis in original.) Simply for exercising some of the discretion that FERPA protects, at Cody High School parents must opt for their children to be officially erased.
On Tuesday night, a huge turnout of parents to the Park County School Board meeting brought the issue into focus, and it appears there will be a revision of the policy to make it FERPA compliant. (The radio coverage is a must-listen and begins at 01:55 in this recording.)
Privacy from our government is becoming harder to achieve, and at least in education federal law provides safeguards. But if FERPA is taking Cody High School administrators by surprise, there may be plenty of other schools across Wyoming avoiding its protections as well.