Unsealed Envelope of Test Scores Leads to FERPA Violation

Author: Michael Tucker, Attorney at Law

Summary:

The Student Privacy Policy Office found that the Port of Los Angeles High School violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) when a teacher delivered an unsealed envelope containing a student’s PSAT test booklet and score report, as well as the student’s College Board ID number and access code to the student’s personal information, to the wrong student.  (Letter to Mora, Student Privacy Policy Office, 121 LRP 12780.)

Facts:

A student’s (Student) parent filed a complaint with the Student Privacy Policy Office alleging a FERPA violation.  Specifically, the parent alleged that a teacher at the Port of Los Angeles High School violated Student’s privacy rights when the teacher inadvertently disclosed Student’s education records, including personally identifiable information, without consent.

The teacher had handed out an unsealed envelope containing Student’s PSAT test booklet and score report to the wrong student.  The envelope also contained Student’s College Board ID number and an access code to the Student’s personal information.

Discussion:

FERPA prohibits a local educational agency (LEA) from disclosing personally identifiable information from students’ education records without consent unless the disclosure otherwise satisfies an exception.  Specifically protected from disclosure are “education records,” which includes records that are: (1) directly related to a student; and (2) maintained by an educational agency or other specified party. (34 CFR § 99.3).

Takeaway:

LEAs should take thoughtful precautions to prevent unauthorized student record disclosure.  Here, the disclosure (and FERPA violation) could have been avoided if the envelope had been sealed, delivered to the correct student, or mailed directly to the student’s home.

The good news here is that these types of inadvertent disclosures are generally avoidable through training and establishing the proper procedures and protocols to maintain and deliver student records.  Specifically, had the school developed a procedure to mail this information directly to the student, the human error in delivery could have been avoided.  Moreover, if the teacher had been directed to carefully seal all student records, the inadvertent disclosure may have been avoided and easily corrected when discovered.

Show Comments

Leave a Reply