I've been asked to explain what a "legitimate educational interest" means when it comes to FERPA.
FERPA, the federal law protecting confidential and personally identifiable student information from being improperly disclosed, states that employees in an educational institution may only have access to the student information in which they have a legitimate educational interest. But, what constitutes a legitimate educational interest?
Put succinctly, when employees need certain confidential student information in order to do their jobs, then they have a legitimate educational interest that information.
Some relevant points:
1. Being curious about student information is not a legitimate educational interest.
2. An employee's need to know (confidential student information) must be directly related to that employee's ability to carry out his/her job responsibilities.
3. Employees' legitimate interest in viewing confidential student information is limited. The ability of employees to access confidential student information does not mean employees are permitted to have unrestricted use.
4. The digital age in schools, where so much confidential student information is accessible to employees, comes with benefits and risks. While the benefits are to be embraced and used to enhance student learning, the risks must be mitigated to protect student privacy. According to Supt. Pat Brady, "There have been limitations within SchoolTool to be able to provide information to a specific employee in need without opening it up to the larger group." Thus, employees who do not need certain confidential student information in order to do their jobs, are being given that information anyway, due to weaknesses in the software program.
As our nation grapples with the issue of privacy infringement, it's contingent on adults to be the voice for young people who do not yet grasp the need to protect their privacy.