What is directory information?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, directory information is a limited set of personal “information that is generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released” and often includes a student’s name, address, telephone number, email address, photograph, date and place of birth, etc. It does NOT include even more intimate and sensitive personal information like test scores, grades, disability or disciplinary records that schools can legally share with companies, contractors and other third parties without parental knowledge or consent for operational, evaluation, and research purposes. The federal government has allowed these growing number of exceptions through regulatory amendments over the last decade or more, described in detail here and here.
The federal law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) enables schools or school districts to share directory information with any person or organization outside the school/district without parental consent — but only when the school/district provides public notice to parents first. Notice must include:
- The types of student information that the school/district has designated as directory information;
- Details about a parent’s right to refuse to allow the school/district to designate any or all of those types of information as directory information; and
- The amount of time the parent has to notify the school/district in writing that he or she does not want any or all of this information shared with others outside the school.
FERPA allows schools/districts to adopt their own directory information policies, but if they choose to provide students’ directory information to a limited number of third parties, their public notice to parents must specify the individuals, groups or companies who may receive directory information and/or for what purposes. Unfortunately, this public notice may not always be provided, and when it is, it is often difficult to find because it may be buried in hundreds of pages of information during registration, in a student handbook, a parent newsletter, school announcement, local newspaper, or website.
Most schools/districts give parents only ten to thirty days from the start of the school year to exercise their right with regard to directory information, and most offer parents a limited choice between two options:
1) Allow schools and districts to share students’ directory information with anyone including marketing companies and the media — often referred to as “opting in” to sharing directory information; or
2) Refuse to allow schools and districts from sharing directory information with anyone, including parent organizations for purposes of creating school phone directories, graduation brochures, or companies who publish yearbooks — often referred to “opting out” of sharing directory information.
This type of “all-or-nothing” approach presents a huge challenge for many parents. On the one hand, parents don’t want their children’s private information shared with anyone who requests it. On the other hand, most parents would like their children to be included in school-related publications like yearbooks, directories, brochures, and newsletters.
While FERPA doesn’t require schools to allow parents the option to select which types of directory information can be shared with whom, some privacy-minded school districts in Maryland, Montana, and North Carolina, for example, have abandoned the “all-or-nothing” approach for a “menu selection” which gives parents more control over their student’s directory information. Our Directory Information Opt Out form, designed in partnership with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, is designed to respect the ability of parents to choose what information they would like shared for what purposes, while also protecting their children’s privacy.
Why should parents opt out?
FERPA became law in 1974 at a time when students’ directory information was used primarily in school-sponsored publications like yearbooks, and to identify student athletes for local newspaper articles. Over the last forty years, individuals, groups and companies have recognized the value of this student information – especially with the creation and growth of the Internet – for commercial and non-educational purposes. Companies who access students’ directory information can sell it to others or use it to market products directly to students, political offices can use it to build their voter tracking systems, thieves can use it to steal identities, and perpetrators can use it to stalk students or commit other crimes.
How can parents opt out?
- Ask the school or school district for its “directory information” policy.
- If the school/district has a policy, read it carefully to find out which personal details are considered directory information and with whom it can or will be shared.
- If the policy forces parents to choose between opting in or opting out of all sharing of directory information, parents should opt out to protect their children’s privacy. However, doing so could mean that their children’s names and pictures will not be listed in the yearbook or other school-related publications.
- Share the model Directory Information Opt Out form we have prepared with the school’s principal or other school officials and encourage them to adopt a new policy giving parents more control over their children’s information.
- If the school/district does not have a directory information policy, ask if they will be sharing student’s directory information with third parties outside of the school. If the answer is yes, explain that FERPA requires that parents must be given public notice as described above, then complete the model Directory Information Opt Out form and submit it to the school/district. Follow-up in writing to ensure that the request will be honored.
Directory Information Opt Out
I understand that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law, allows my school or school district to disclose designated “directory information” to third parties without my written consent, unless I inform the school/district otherwise, and according to any existing policies and/or procedures.
I am submitting this form because: [choose one option)
Ο My child’s school or school district does not have a “directory information” policy.
Ο My child’s school or school district’s existing “directory information” policy does not sufficiently protect my child’s privacy.
Parent or guardian name: _____________________________________________
Student name: _________________________________________________________
Student grade: _________________________________________________________
Student ID number: ____________________________________________________
School name: ___________________________________________________________
Parent/Guardian signature (if student is under 18): ___________________
Parent or guardian email address: ________________________________________
Student signature (if student is over 18): __________________________________
Directory information that I DO NOT want the school or district to share with ANYONE
My child’s school or school district may not share any of the following checked directory information with ANYONE outside the school or district level:
Ο Student name
Ο Telephone numbers (e.g., home, cell, etc.)
Ο Parent personal information (e.g., name, address, phone, etc.)
Ο Video or electronic images
Ο Date of birth
Ο Place of birth
Ο Home or permanent address
Ο E-mail address
Ο Dates of attendance
Ο Enrollment Status (e.g., full-time, part-time)
Ο Grade or class standing (e.g., grade 3, or sophomore)
Ο Most recent school or educational institution attended
Ο Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
Ο Degree(s) received
Ο Awards and honors received
Ο Any information that might otherwise be considered personal or confidential
Ο School or district issued student ID number*
* Note: A student ID number may or may not be considered as directory information depending on how the school/district uses it. According to the U.S. Department of Education, a student ID number can be classified as a type of “directory information” if it: “is displayed on a student ID badge, or is used to communicate in electronic systems, but only if the identifier cannot be used to gain access to education records except when used in conjunction with one or more factors that authenticate the user’s identity, such as a PIN, password, or other factor known or possessed only by the authorized user.” [i]
My child’s school or school district may share the directory information I have not checked above ONLY for the following purposes:
Ο Using my child’s directory information, as indicated above, for school or district publications, including but not limited to, a yearbook, graduation program, theater playbill, athletic team or band roster, newsletter, and other school and district publications.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with the U.S. Military.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with colleges and other educational institutions.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with prospective employers.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with political officers.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with the National Student Clearinghouse.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with news media outside the school or district.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with the school PTA or district parent organization.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with other groups and entities outside of the school or district, including community, advocacy and/or parent organizations.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with companies who are marketing products.
Ο Sharing my child’s directory information, as indicated above, with charter schools or mailing houses who are used by charter schools to send recruiting materials to families.
Ο Posting my child’s directory information, as indicated above, on official school-related websites or social media accounts.
Ο Posting my child’s directory information, as indicated above, on school employees’ personal websites or social media accounts.
* Note: FERPA allows a school or school district to share a wider array of students’ personal information with individuals or companies offering operational services, online educational tools or classroom applications (apps) without parental knowledge or consent, or allowing for opt out, as well as for research or evaluation purposes.[ii]
Disclaimer: These materials do not constitute legal advice. Consult a private lawyer or call your local ACLU should you have specific questions.
[i] U. S. Department of Education, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Model Notice for Directory Information. See http://familypolicy.ed.gov/content/ferpa-model-notice-directory-information
[ii] U.S. Department of Education, Privacy Technical Assistance Center, FERPA Exceptions – Summary. See http://ptac.ed.gov/sites/default/files/FERPA%20Exceptions_HANDOUT_horizontal_0.pdf