Department of Education Secretary ‘Happy to Assist’ on FERPA

By on September 9, 2013

Last October, FIRE happily pointed Torch readers to the Student Press Law Center’s (SPLC’s) FERPA Fact Tumblr, an Internet tool designed to educate the public about misuses of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Unfortunately, institutions routinely cite FERPA erroneously to justify hiding “unseemly” student records that ought to be publicly viewable.  In an exciting development for those who care about this issue, last week SPLC’s Sara Gregory was given the rare opportunity to ask Department of Education (ED) Secretary Arne Duncan a question during a conference call organized by the Education Writers Association, and she used that opportunity to raise the issue of confusion over FERPA. Specifically, Ms. Gregory asked the Secretary “whether the Department of Education had plans to issue any sort of guidance to schools to help stem the misapplication of FERPA.” Here is what Secretary Duncan answered: We always try to do our best to provide very clear guidance and try and strike that balance between absolutely maintaining privacy, but also as much as we can, absolute transparency. Where districts or schools are — I’m not saying they are — but if they’re sort of hiding behind FERPA and not sharing simple information, we’re happy to try and assist there.  According to SPLC, Duncan invited Ms. Gregory to follow up with ED staff, which the organization plans to do. Secretary Duncan also “encouraged any journalist who’s faced with a dubious claim of FERPA confidentiality to bring the problem to the attention of [ED’s] chief privacy officer, Kathleen Styles, who’s reachable at kathleen.styles@ed.gov.” FIRE is excited about this development and hopes that it will lead to clear guidance from ED that will curb the rampant misuses of FERPA that are all too common today.