How does FERPA impact reports of COVID-19 at schools?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, prevents districts from releasing student’s education records, including health information.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It is a concern among parents — how to keep their kids safe at school during a pandemic.

They want to know all they can about who may have been exposed to COVID-19 in an effort to keep their child protected, but certain laws prevent them from knowing too much.

“One is public health, safety and welfare of others in the school who may come in contact with those with COVID versus the privacy interests of those students who do have COVID-19,” said Clay Calvert.

He’s the Director of the Marion B Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida.

The U-S Department of Education released a 9-page student privacy policy in March, relating to reporting protocols for schools and COVID-19.

Calvert says the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, shields districts from releasing student’s education records, including health information.

“It would be very rare because under FERPA, the school district or the school itself, FEPRA applies to both, may not release the name of that student to another parent. That is the general assumption involved,” he explained.

Some school districts have opted to post COVID-19 positive cases on their websites while others

have said notices will be sent to parents if a child in a classroom is showing symptoms but the child won’t be identified.

Calvert says he sympathizes with parents who are looking for clarity but may not get a clear picture because of health laws.

“This is a severe public health crisis and the interest in public health, the safety of their children is very high, if not a compelling interest in this situation,” Calvert said.


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