District terminates teacher's contract over FERPA violation | TCTA
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District terminates teacher's contract over FERPA violation

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A district proposed termination of a teacher's contract for violating district policy and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The teacher requested the appointment of an independent hearing examiner, who considered the facts and found the following:

The teacher had a term contract with the district. She had a reputation as a responsible and committed educator. She was also a member of a labor organization that supported and assisted teachers.

During the school year, the teacher began spending time with another employee who worked as a special education instructional coach for English language arts. The other employee supported and coached special education ELA teachers. His job duties did not require him to work with students in the classroom and did not require him to spend time in the teacher's classroom.

The district received a complaint that the other employee was engaged in electioneering while on duty and began to investigate. During that investigation, the technology department found an email the teacher sent him. The teacher attached 34 testing room rosters to this email that contained the names and other personally identifying information of 692 students. The employee who received the email had no legitimate educational interest in the testing room rosters or student information. Immediately upon receiving the email message, he forwarded it along with the attached confidential student information to an outside third-party, the labor organization of which they were both members.

Upon discovery of this email, the district asked the teacher why she forwarded this information to an individual with no educational interest. She stated that she was seeking clarification from her labor organization as to whether the testing schedule resulted in an illegal deprivation of teacher planning time. She admitted that she did not obtain parental approval to disclose the confidential student information contained in the rosters she sent to the other employee. During the investigation, it was discovered that 62 parents of the students whose information the teacher disclosed had signed FERPA notices indicating that they did not consent to the district disclosing their students' information.

After hearing the facts, the independent hearing examiner concluded that good cause existed to terminate the teacher's contract. In doing so, he noted:

"It is generally understood and accepted in the teaching profession that educators are required and obligated to keep student information confidential. Prudent education professionals consider this obligation to be common sense. And rightfully so. This obligation is consistent with the notion that educators have a duty to protect students.
"By disclosing confidential student information, the teacher created a safety concern for the 692 students identified on the rosters she improperly disclosed. As a well-trained and experienced educator who had the respect and admiration of her administrators and colleagues, the teacher knew and understood the importance of exercising special care and diligence in protecting student information. She knew student information was confidential, and that it was her duty not to disclose it. District records confirmed that that teacher had been covered on all the relevant district policies concerning the protection of student information... she knew and understood the importance of protecting student information."

The independent hearing examiner recommended that the teacher's contract be terminated for violation of FERPA and district policy.

Note: This case serves as a reminder not only about FERPA protections, but that no email sent from a school district email is confidential. Members who have questions or concerns about job-related matters should contact TCTA's Legal Department at 888-879-8282.