In honor of school starting back, there is a potential privacy violation that may not have occurred to you. At the beginning of the school year, there are always documents to sign and fill out, but there is one you should pay attention to, the school’s directory information form. If you are a privacy minded parent, you need to fill out a FERPA opt-out form every year to stop information from being shared there. Directory information sounds benign, but by not filling out this form, you give the school the permission to trade or sell directory information to marketing firms or anyone else.
First, we will provide a little history lesson. FERPA is the acronym for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, adopted in 1974. The act allows for information to be shared through the student directory, and the shared info may surprise you. Just like many things that occurred in the ’70s, safety and privacy were not a big concern. Also, in those days, there was no internet so the information provided in the directory was not as readily available as it is today.
Still don’t think filling out the opt-out form is worth your time? Let’s have a look at the data that is allowed to be shared or sold. This information is taken directly from the World Privacy Forum, and the FERPA opt-out document may be downloaded in PDF form here.
- telephone number
- a photograph
- date of birth
- place of birth
- permanent or home address
- e-mail address
- dates of attendance
- most recent institution attended
- weight / height
- enrollment status (grade in school)
- most recent educational agency or institution attended
- participation in officially recognized activities and sports
- degree(s) received
- awards and honors received
The fact that this much data is easily attainable is startling. The truth is, most parents either miss this form, don’t take the time to fill it out, or are completely unaware that this is happening. From a privacy standpoint, this information could also be used for other reasons than marketing. In homes where domestic abuse is occurring, having this data available could endanger the safety of the child. You could also imagine this information getting in to the hands of people that do not have good intentions.
Many school districts hide this information, try to discourage parents from opting out, or don’t even provide the forms necessary. This could be happening for a few reasons. Data privacy is a new field that many schools may not be used to yet. It could also be that districts do not fully understand the rules of this act. There could be other reasons, but we hope it is not because districts are getting paid by numbers of students sharing information.
Though congress is going to be updating this act soon so it is more in step with the times, you do not have to wait for that to happen. There are already some school districts that won’t share any information for marketing purposes, and by filling out the form, you could limit access even more. At a time in society where we are worried about privacy, filling out the FERPA opt-out form is a good way to keep it safe.
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