Student Privacy 101: Why school directory information sharing is a major student privacy issue
By WPF Executive Director Pam Dixon
This article is the second in a series on educational privacy
Most parents and students do not know that under the law as it is now, school can share Directory Information about students with third parties without parental or student consent, unless there is an opt out on file at the school. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act determines what kinds of information schools can share with third parties, and schools determine if, for what purpose, and with whom directory information can be shared.
Directory sharing opt out is important because although directory information may sound innocuous, it can include information about each student that is quite detailed. Directory information can include:
- Student’s name
- Telephone listing
- Electronic mail address
- Date and place of birth
- Major field of study
- Dates of attendance
- Grade level
- Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
- Weight and height of members of athletic teams
- Degrees, honors, and awards received
- The most recent educational agency or institution attended
- Student ID number, user ID, or other unique personal identifier used to communicate in electronic systems but only if the identifier cannot be used to gain access to education records except when used in conjunction with one or more factors that authenticate the user’s identity, such as a PIN, password, or other factor known or possessed only by the authorized user
- A student ID number or other unique personal identifier that is displayed on a student ID badge, but only if the identifier cannot be used to gain access to education records except when used in conjunction with one or more factors that authenticate the user’s identity, such as a PIN, password, or other factor known or possessed only by the authorized user.
- [Ed Note: Some schools add video to this list.]
Excerpted From US Department of Education, FERPA Model Notice for Directory Information
WPF encourages parents and students to opt out of directory information sharing; we have a how-to page here on just how to get this done. We also have a sample FERPA opt out form you can print out and take to your school. Opting out is important for everyone, but it is essential for members of law enforcement or the judiciary, public figures, victims of identity theft, or anyone who is handling issues related to domestic violence, assault, or stalking.
Parents of students younger than 18 must opt their children out of directory information sharing. Students 18 and older must opt themselves out. (FERPA Directory Information rules apply at the college and post-graduate level, too.) Currently, FERPA is mired in an outdated approach that needs to be updated and reformed from top to bottom. Until then, the FERPA opt outs are students’ and parents’ main tool to have a say in how their personal information is shared with third parties.
How FERPA opt outs work
Timing: At many schools, directory information opt out is only offered for a very brief window of time once per year, usually at the beginning of the school year. In some cases, the opt-out window opens and closes within the space of days or weeks.
Fill out the Opt Out Form: To opt out, you will need to fill out a Directory Information Opt out form and give it to the school. We have a sample form you can use: Sample FERPA opt out form.
Beware of tricky wording: Some school’s opt out forms can be confusing and can even discourage parents’ and students’ participation in opt out. If that is the case, you can try our sample FERPA opt out form or ask the school to help you opt out.
More information on School Directory Information Opt Outs
A wealth of information about FERPA and school opt outs exist. Here is a selection to begin exploring.
Opt Out How-To Video and Brochure
From WPF: Directory Information Opt Out Video
From WPF: School Privacy Flyer – how to opt out . This flyer will help you opt-out step by step.
Samples of FERPA opt outs
Here are some examples of school directory infomation opt outs that we found online. We chose these examples randomly, they simply represent what a variety of opt out forms may look like. Each school will have a different form, and often schools will have their own policies about when you can turn in an opt out. School policies may vary widely.
WPF sample opt out form:
- Sample FERPA opt out form. This form is designed to be printed and taken to the school.
k-12 opt out forms, examples:
- example 1: http://www.fcps.net/media/1010565/ferpa.pdf
- example 2: http://old.akronschools.com/news/forms-and-more/pdf-downloads/forms/optout.pdf
- example 3: http://www.k12.ginet.org/district.cfm?subpage=14249
college opt out forms, examples:
- example 1: http://www.losmedanos.edu/studentrecords/FERPA.pdf
- example 2: http://berkeleycollege.edu/files_bc/FERPA_Opt_Out.pdf
- example 3: http://www.sandiego.edu/registrar/documents/restrict_directory_information_request.pdf
More FERPA Opt out resources:
- Opt Out Now Resources (Education New York)
- FERPA Overview (US Department of Education)
- FERPA Guidance for Students (US Department of Education)
- FERPA Guideance for Parents (US Department of Education)
- FERPA Regulations (US Department of Education)
- FERPA Legislative history
More from the Student Privacy 101 Series
This post was updated August 17, 2015.