Thursday, December 18, 2008

Education Department expands privacy of school records, bringing objections from journalists

In new regulations issued under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), also known as the Buckley Amendment, the U.S. Department of Education is making more information about students difficult to get.

The 1974 amendment was intended to "safeguard against disclosure of personally identifying 'education records' such as attendance records and transcripts," writes Frank LoMonte for the Student Press Law Center. If schools violate the law, they run the risk of losing federal education funding.

The latest regulation issued under the law, published in the Dec. 9 Federal Register, broadens the definition of "educational record" to include "redacted" records -- documents and records that have already had names and identifying information deleted from them. "The final regulation says that a redacted record is confidential if a person's identity could be determined by people in the school -- so that, in DOE's view, a record about an incident not well-known to the public but known to people within the school will become confidential," writes LoMonte.

The center, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Education Writers Association are questioning the necessity of expanding the scope of confidentiality. They argue that existing regulations are already abused by schools that withhold information that should be public. The new rule would even apply to documents naming a student named who "voluntarily revealed his or her identity to the media."

The rule is expected to go into effect just before the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration. Read the center's whole story here.

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