This is reblogged from the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy website. Feel free to share with other parents! You can subscribe to our PCSP mailing list here.
Back to school season can be a busy or even stressful time for both
parents and children. As the days grow shorter, the “to-do” list grows
longer. Number one on the list – because of its importance and time
sensitivity – should be to opt out your child from directory information
sharing at school.
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
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
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
to allow schools and districts from sharing directory information with anyone,
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
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
, 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
The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have prepared a model Directory Information Opt Out form as an editable word doc
; or as a pdf
that parents can fill out and submit to their schools at the start of the school year. We will be releasing our more comprehensive privacy toolkit t soon, via a
grant from the Rose Foundation. Our opt out form 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?
Download the Directory Information Opt Out form here (.docx) or here (.pdf).
Disclaimer: This commentary does not constitute legal advice.
Consult a private lawyer or call your local ACLU should you have
- 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.