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FERPA and School Safety

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Posted in:  
Legal
  on
February 1, 2018

The January 23rd school shooting in Benton, Kentucky was reported to be the eleventh so far in 2018. Let that sink in for a moment. It would appear that our need to expect--and be prepared for--such tragic events is becoming the new normal. In light of this sad reality, schools will clearly be on alert for any red flags that could possibly indicate a situation escalating toward a dangerous or violent outcome. If something is discovered, there may be a need to act quickly to ensure the safety of students and staff. Student information generally protected from disclosure under FERPA may need to be released to various officials and authorities. For that reason, FERPA contains the health and safety exception.

Codified at 34 C.F.R. Section 99.31(a)(10), disclosure of personally-identifiable information (PII) from student educational records is authorized without parent/student consent if such disclosure is made in connection with a health or safety emergency under the conditions set forth in Section 99.36. That section provides that PII may be disclosed to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals. The school may take into account the totality of the circumstances pertaining to a threat to the health or safety of a student or other individuals and, if it determines that threat to be significant, then disclosure may be made to “any person whose knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.”

Additional information about the FERPA health and safety exception, and its applicability in various circumstances, may be found at the links below. 

 

Addressing Emergencies on Campus

 

Emergency and Disaster Guidance

 

As always, if you have any questions or have uncertainty in this matter, please don't hesitate to contact me.

About the Author

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Terri Thomas

Director of Legal Services

Terri Thomas serves as Director of Legal Services for OPSRC.  Ms. Thomas is an attorney practicing exclusively in the area of Oklahoma school law, with a primary focus on rural and smaller school districts. Prior to OPSRC, she served as legal counsel for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools (OROS) from 1999 to 2015 and represents many school districts throughout all parts of the state.

It’s no accident that Terri wound up practicing school law.  She grew up in the school business. Terri’s father, the late Howard Thomas, was a school superintendent for 25 years in several Oklahoma school districts, including Pauls Valley—Terri’s hometown—and Ardmore. After graduating from Pauls Valley High School, Terri received her bachelor’s degree in Finance from Southern Methodist University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

She and her husband, Norman Thompson, and their 8-year old daughter, Mary, reside in Oklahoma City.

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