Today, the growing concern about drugs and violence in schools often trumps students’ privacy rights. Federal courts have found that students' Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizure do no always apply in a public school setting. The ACLU believes that schools are not constitutional dead zones, and continues to fight for students' privacy rights, challenging unreasonable strip-searches, electronic monitoring, and searches and seizures of property such as cell phones.
Schools collect a wealth of information on students. Some of this—such as grades, discipline problems, and household income—makes sense for educators to collect and can be vital to the protection of civil rights. Some—such as pregnancy, mental health, victimization, and criminal histories—is excessive. But under proposed rules from the Obama administration, all of it is about to be shared much more widely.
As part of the its accountability in education agenda, the Obama administration has proposed new rules that would allow school administrators to circumvent the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and share students' personal information with other state officials and private entities for broad spectrum of activities. And they could do so without consent from either the student or his or her parents.
Under the new rules, personal student information could be shared with state officials not working directly on education and placed in state database with non-education records. Private entities – like test preparation centers or preschools – would be able to access school records they want to evaluate for their education programs. Ultimately, if this expansion continues we could soon see this information being shared between states, resulting in a database of sensitive information of most Americans. Again – none of this would require consent of parents or students.
Evaluation of student performance and education outcomes are important goals. However the sharing of personal information must be sharply limited and results should generally be limited to non-identifiable information. Because these proposed rules share so much more personally identifiable information on students they pose serious privacy concerns. The administration must revise its proposed rule sharply limit the sharing of information, or we risk our private education files becoming an open book.
Students Have Privacy Rights, Too (2011 blog): Schools collect a wealth of information on students. Some of this—such as grades, discipline problems, and household income—makes sense for educators to collect and can be vital to the protection of civil rights. Some—such as pregnancy, mental health, victimization, and criminal histories—is excessive. But under proposed rules from the Obama administration, all of it is about to be shared much more widely.
Don’t Filter Me! (2011 video): Some public schools are using web filtering software to block student access to positive info about LGBT issues and organizations. Blocking all LGBT content violates students' First Amendment rights to free speech. They also violate the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs, including gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups. Some schools have even configured their web filters to block access to websites for positive LGBT rights organizations, but still allow access to anti-LGBT sites that condemn LGBT people or urge us to try to change our sexual orientation. This is called viewpoint discrimination, and it's also illegal.
Your Right to Privacy (A Guide for Students) (2003 resource): Getting an education isn't just about books and grades - we're also learning how to participate fully in the life of this nation. But in order to really participate, we need to know our rights - otherwise we may lose them. The highest law in our land is the U.S. Constitution, which has some amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights guarantees that the government can never deprive people in the U.S. of certain fundamental rights including the right to freedom of religion and to free speech and the due process of law. Many federal and state laws give us additional rights, too.
How the Anti-Terrorism Bill Puts Student Privacy at Risk (2001 resource): The final version of the anti-terrorism legislation, the Uniting and Strengthening America By Providing Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (H.R. 3162, the "USA PATRIOT Act") amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the confidentiality requirements for statistical databases of student information (Sections 507 & 508). Law enforcement officials already have adequate tools to access student records under current law.
ACLU Letter to University of Nevada Chancellor (2002 resource)
ACLU Protests Cameras in Colorado Schools (2001 resource)