Today, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, released a new white paper that offers guidance to help K-12 and higher education administrators and educators protect student privacy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s no question that schools and institutions are struggling to manage this unprecedented situation and need as much support and information as possible to do their jobs,” said Amelia Vance, FPF’s Director of Youth and Education Privacy. “The Future of Privacy Forum is tracking the situation closely in an effort to anticipate and help address the challenges that schools may encounter as they work to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and we expect to release additional resources in the days ahead.”
“As our nation’s public school superintendents navigate through the extraordinary set of circumstance they face in light of COVID-19, AASA remains committed to gathering, creating, and disseminating as many resources as possible to answer, to the best of our ability, the myriad questions they raise,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, AASA’s Associate Executive Director for Advocacy & Governance. “Through our work with FPF, we are happy to provide this collection of frequently asked questions in the context of student data and privacy and FERPA. Protecting student data and privacy is just one of the many factors they need to consider, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to share this resource today.”
The white paper offers insight into how the health or safety emergency exception under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) allows schools to share students’ personally identifiable information (PII) with the community and relevant officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to FPF and AASA, under the FERPA health or safety emergency exception, “if a school determines that there is an articulable and significant threat to the health or safety of a student or other individuals and that someone needs PII from education records to protect the student’s or other individuals’ health or safety, it may disclose that information to the people who need to know it without first gaining the student’s or parent’s consent.” Read more.
The white paper also addresses a number of frequently asked questions, including:
- If a student has COVID-19, what information from education records can the school share with the community?
- If the school suspects that a student has COVID-19, what information can the school share with its community?
- If a school suspects that a student may have COVID-19, can school officials contact the student’s primary care physician?
- If a student has COVID-19 and the school’s health records are covered by HIPAA rather than FERPA, what information may the school disclose to its community?
- What if the school receives a voluntary request from a local, state, or federal agency for student records to assist the agency in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak?
- What should a school do if it receives a request under a mandatory reporting law to share student health records with a public health agency?
- Do interagency agreements with other state or local agencies allow schools to disclose education records without obtaining consent?
Alexandra Sollberger, FPF