Teachers need to know students’ records

Despite federal law giving teachers the right to know their students’ educational and disciplinary records, administrators cite confidentiality to keep teachers in the dark, writes Ms. Cornelius on A Shrewdness of Apes.

After one recent (unknown) incident, we were called into an impromptu faculty meeting to be told that something bad was going on and to ask to keep an ear out for rumors or information that could help in the administrators’ investigation. One brave soul actually asked “Look out for what?” The repeated response? “I can’t tell you due to confidentiality, but let me know if you see or hear anything about this incident.” Once again– what incident?

If high school teachers reported every rumor they heard, they’d have no time to do anything else, Ms. Cornelius writes.

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  1. john thompson says:

    Thanks. I’ve always suspected our district was going overboard on confidentiality. The only way we learn information is when we get a typed note, no letter head, giving us specific instructions, such as let the student go to the restroom without asking. When a teacher is helping an 18 year old during a mental health crisis, we are allowed to know a little, but not much. If my job, for instance, is the call the student every x number of hours over the weekend, I get a list of questions, but if I called in the middle of a life-threatening crisis, however, i’d be on my own on the weekend, freelancing. When the student is both a threat to himself and his class and the crisis is ongoing, we still get very little info from the school, even if the kid is completely pouring out his history. If the kid is just out of lockup, and off his meds, but the meds are in the house of an estranged family member in an area controlled by a rival gang, and a teacher is told before its too late, that teacher might be the one who can negotiate safe passage for retreiving the meds. When I started teaching, we were routinely told if a student on an IEP had ADHD. then we stopped being told if the IEP included mental illness or SED, or a conduct disorder. I’ve had regular classes with 30 students, 3/4th with a medical or legal paper trail, and I enventually learned that a 1/2 dozen have full blown mental illness. Then I look back at the conflicts that could have been avoided with timely info.

  2. Mike Curtis says:

    Knowledge is power…counselors and vice principals have no authority over teachers, so keeping secrets is quite a valuable commodity to them.

    If ,after a few inquiries about a troublesome student you get “sorry, can’t let you know that,” try this: Tell the secret keeper that you have no recourse but to notify the parents of all the children who are forced to share the classroom with said problem…because, it is your responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all in your charge. Do it in writing and ask for their signature acknowledging receipt of your concern.

    Trust me, it works.

  3. Nancy Hudak says:

    Thank you for pointing out the absurdity of keeping information from school staff under the guise of FERPA. In y previous life, I battled this silliness on behalf of teachers, Ed Techs, Bus Drivers and more all too often.

    The primary purpose of FERPA is proactive: make sure parents have access to kids’ school records – please note, records, not rumors, conversations or information. The secondary purpose is to make sure people without a legitimate reason to access those same school records don’t do so. It is a shield, not a sword.