Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 22
oung people are often
called on to "make a way
out of no way." Now, they
are doing that again by
turning their grief into
a massive mobilization
against gun violence
and for school safety.
Galvanized by the murder of their classmates
and teachers, students at Florida's Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School have inspired youths across the country to march,
rally, and walk out of school in order to shake
U.S. gun violence to its core. And I am right
there with them.
With so many teachers, principals, counselors, and nurses grieving, along with students and families, the outpouring of positive action on the part of students is a ray
of light. Not since the Black Lives Matter
movement have so many taken such strong
action against gun violence.
Emergency rooms are filled with young
people who pay the price for policies
made by adults. I know because I was
there with them. For more than 20 years
I was a trauma nurse, caring for children and teens. I saw the 12-year-old who
was blinded by a gunshot, the 17-yearold shot in the chest, and many others.
Emergency rooms are
filled with young people
who pay the price for
policies made by adults."
Dave Penney/Des Moines Register-File
By Mary Beth Tinker
I Stand With the Students
Mary Beth Tinker, 13, sits with her mother at a Des Moines, Iowa, school board meeting on
Dec. 21, 1965, after being suspended for wearing a black arm band to Harding Junior High School.
Student Privacy Laws Should
Protect Students, Not School Officials
By Frank LoMonte
hen a deadly or life-threatening
crime takes place at an educational institution, the public
justifiably asks: Did the school
do enough to maintain safety?
At such times, "we can't say
anything because of student privacy" is a profoundly incorrect
answer-legally, morally, and practically.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
was enacted in 1974 to protect students against law enforcement snooping into secret files their schools might be keeping
without their knowledge. Over the years, aggressive lawyering by school and college attorneys has distorted the statute
to encompass much more-but not nearly as much as school
Journalists and concerned parents have been unable to obtain many documents from the Broward County school system that might help the public understand whether school
authorities responded to the Parkland, Fla., mass shooter's
capacity for violence with adequate urgency. Instead, they
have met the "FERPA wall of secrecy" in asking about the
background of Nikolas Cruz.
Government records, including those maintained by public
schools, are normally presumed to be open for public inspection, even when the records contain sensitive or embarrassing
information. But schools have widely come to misunderstand
FERPA as preventing them from providing the public even
with an anonymized factual description of serious disciplinary
incidents or safety problems that involve students.
As a result, parents and community members regularly
hear that "something bad happened" at a school but that they
can't be told what it is or whether anyone was punished. This
makes it impossible for the public to hold schools and colleges
accountable for how they use their governmental authority.
When a North Carolina high school student went public last
year with allegations that another student swung a noose at
him and pulled a knife, the superintendent cited FERPA and
told the public little more than that "the matter was immediately investigated by school officials and appropriately handled." After a 13-year-old Georgia student suffered a severe leg
injury requiring amputation after an altercation with a districtcontracted employee in 2016, the school claimed FERPA forbade them from releasing a surveillance video of the incident.
In these situations and hundreds more like them, schools
invoke "student privacy" not because it makes students safer,
but because it insulates school officials from having their disciplinary decisions second-guessed.
This is a gross misuse of FERPA. The U.S. Department of
Education, which interprets and enforces FERPA (and has
never penalized any institution as a violator since it was enacted) has said repeatedly that the statute is a narrow one,
protecting only the confidentiality of students' education records. In an interpretation reiterated in several legal opinion
letters, the department wrote to one school district in 2006
that "FERPA applies to the disclosure of tangible records and
of information derived from tangible records. FERPA does
not protect the confidentiality of information in general, and,
therefore, does not apply to the disclosure of information derived from a source other than education records, even if education records exist which contain that information."
In other words, as long as a school is not being asked to
release the contents of a school-maintained record, federal
law presents no prohibition to the disclosure of information
that comes from other sources. And it certainly presents no
prohibition to the disclosure of information that could only be
22 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 21, 2018 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary
Mostly they were kids of color, shot nowhere near school.
Gun violence is also a family affair. One
study found that women who were physically abused by a current or former intimate
partner were five times as likely to be murdered if the partner owned a firearm. Those
women leave behind traumatized children.
I left hospital nursing in 2013 to spend
more time encouraging young people to
stand up for themselves. I knew it would
be good for their physical, mental, and
spiritual health, all of which I had learned
about in nursing school. I knew encouraging their basic understanding of civics,
including their First Amendment rights,
could empower and protect them.
When I was a 13-year-old in Des Moines,
Iowa, the First Amendment changed my
life forever. The year was 1965. My sib-
identifiable by somebody with firsthand knowledge of the situation. For instance, FERPA would not prevent schools from
sharing a statement that, "Two students were suspended for
making a bomb threat on Twitter," which does not identify the
disciplined students by name.
When journalists ask for records about a case like Nikolas
Cruz's, their purpose is to assess how government officials
did their jobs. Right now, it is up for serious debate whether
school authorities responded properly to a potential threat
at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School-but without access to the school's records, the debate is an uninformed one.
The initial wave of news stories reported that Cruz was
expelled from Stoneman Douglas, but the Miami Herald
later reported that no such expulsion took place. When an
event of overriding public interest occurs, it serves no legitimate purpose for school officials to withhold accurate
information, allowing speculation and rumor to proliferate.
There is certainly no precedent for any school to be sanctioned as a FERPA violator for giving out such information
(as, for instance, the University of Oklahoma did in announcing the expulsion of two students caught singing a
racist song in 2015).
Time and again, educational institutions have put secrecy
ahead of safety, insisting that FERPA prevents them from
warning the public of dangerous students.
Fortunately, judges are seeing through the distortion of
In 2011, an Arizona judge ordered Pima Community College to release internal emails in which employees discussed
their concerns about a former student who went on to murder six people in Tucson and gravely wound Rep. Gabrielle
Giffords. The judge turned aside the college's insistence that
FERPA precluded disclosure of such emails.
More recently, a federal judge sanctioned Northern Kentucky University lawyers who frivolously claimed that
FERPA prohibited coaches from testifying about how they
responded to sexual-assault accusations against members of
the school basketball team.
As these rulings reflect, it's eminently possible for schools
to interpret FERPA in a common-sense manner that avoids
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 21, 2018
Education Week - March 21, 2018
A Teachable Moment For 2nd Amendment
Student Walkout Taps Well of Anger, Sadness
Sick of Low Pay, More Teachers Prepare to Fight
News in Brief
N.D. Districts Can Substitute ACT For State Test
Study: Don’t Use ACT, SAT to Gauge School Achievement
Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Schools
Educators and Finance Officers Team Up for Better Budgeting
Schools Struggle to Use Data To Get Better
Upcoming March Could Draw On Walkout’s Momentum
Walkout Takes Aim at Gun Violence
FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Response to Shooting Begins to Take Shape
lorida Extends Private-School Vouchers to Bullied Students
Surprise W.Va. Teachers Strike Emboldens Activists Elsewhere
DeVos Still Challenged In Delivering Message
Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
MARY BETH TINKER: I Stand With the Students
FRANK LOMONTE: Student Privacy Laws Should Protect Students, Not School Officials
KIRSTEN BAESLER: Yes, Betsy DeVos, Our Schools Are Innovating
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
LAWRENCE BAINES & JIM MACHELL: The War on Teachers Comes to Oklahoma
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Sick of Low Pay, More Teachers Prepare to Fight
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 2
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - N.D. Districts Can Substitute ACT For State Test
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Study: Don’t Use ACT, SAT to Gauge School Achievement
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Schools
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 9
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Schools Struggle to Use Data To Get Better
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 11
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Upcoming March Could Draw On Walkout’s Momentum
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Walkout Takes Aim at Gun Violence
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 15
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 16
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 17
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - lorida Extends Private-School Vouchers to Bullied Students
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Surprise W.Va. Teachers Strike Emboldens Activists Elsewhere
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 21
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - FRANK LOMONTE: Student Privacy Laws Should Protect Students, Not School Officials
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - KIRSTEN BAESLER: Yes, Betsy DeVos, Our Schools Are Innovating
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 25
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 27
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - LAWRENCE BAINES & JIM MACHELL: The War on Teachers Comes to Oklahoma
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW4