Student privacy law revised for safety

Felicia Serrano

Language in laws protecting student privacy is changing for school safety, after the U.S. Department of Education decided to revise regulations in how a school can release student information.

Terry Piper, vice president of Student Affairs, said that the standards under which a campus can release student information because he/she pose a threat have been lowered.

‘Previously it was required to have very high level evidence that a student was indeed a danger,’ said Piper. ‘Now the standard has been lowered so we don’t have to be able to prove that the student is a danger if we have reason to believe the student is a danger to themselves or others.’

According to the U.S. Department of Education, changes to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law protecting the privacy of students educational records went into effect Jan. 9 in response to the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007.

‘These changes and clarifications will help school officials respond to emergencies more quickly and effectively,’ said U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, in a prepared statement.

‘The regulations balance student privacy with school safety while facilitating research to ultimately improve education.’

School administrations must document the emergency and reason for disclosing such information, Piper said.

The law also permits state and local educational authorities as well as federal officials to make further disclosures of personally identifiable information from education records on the schools behalf.

CSUN has always taken a conservative approach to obtaining or releasing student information, said the Vice President of Student Affairs.

‘We have taken a student’s privacy and safety very seriously,’ said Piper. ‘With these new updates we will incorporate and continue to make that judgment carefully.’

Piper said the language permits the campus to notify administrators and parents that a student is a threat as long as officials have a ‘strong reason to believe’ they are a threat.

Universities, like CSUN, have the right to release any ‘directory information’ about a student so long as the student themselves don’t indicate that they want to prevent such access, according to CSUN’s registration guide.

Directory information includes any information obtained by the school upon registration like a student’s name, address, and phone numbers among other information.

Nicholas Echevrri, CSUN health science major, said he feels the revisions are good for universities, but hopes it reflects the students’ needs.

‘I have no problem with (FERPA) reevaluating the law and improving it,’ Echevrri said. ‘My only concern is that they think of students rights first and inform us of the changes to be made.’

Ashley Abiva, a CSUN marketing major, said it’s always better to revisit something to find ways to improve it, but feels the Virginia Tech tragedy couldn’t have been prevented.

‘It is hard to say that things like this could have been prevented if this law was looked at earlier,’ Abiva said. ‘However, now we can go back after learning and through experience and review what should change and what should stay.’

The changes to FERPA also make the campus accountable for information that third parties, like corporations or outside contractors who do work for the campus, have access to.

‘When we hire someone they have access to student records they need to do their job,’ said Piper.

CSUN would have to keep a record of why these third parties would need that information as well as how they use it.

Piper said students will be notified of any changes by a formal letter or public notice.

‘These changes are helpful and CSUN will continue to make sure student’s privacy is kept private,’ said Piper.