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Monday, January 23, 2006

Student confidentiality

When a school official released information about a student’s schizophrenia, the student and his parents were deeply traumatized and they brought a costly lawsuit against the school district.

Student right to privacy or confidentiality is protected by two major federal laws that every school system must adhere to: FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

FERPA demands that all student records – from grades to disciplinary and personal information, should be kept confidential and released only with parents’ consent or students’, if they’re over 18. The records should be kept in a locked filing cabinet and not shared with school officials without written consent. Parents may request changes to the records and the school must reply promptly to their requests.

HIPAA protects the student’s past, present and future physical and mental health records. The regulation affects school based health centers, school nurse submissions and information the school sends or receives from doctors and hospitals. HIPAA regulations require parental consent before any medical information can be released. In emergencies, schools can send info, but only minimal information should be sent.

When schools follow FERPA and HIPAA guidelines, student confidentiality rights are protected and schools shield themselves from expensive lawsuits.