Privacy laws can be confusing. There are often exceptions to every rule, and those rules and laws can change and adapt to the current environment. That holds true with educational laws like FERPA, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Mistakes can happen, resulting in a FERPA violation. But what happens when a Wisconsin teacher violates FERPA?

teacher ferpa violation

Examples of FERPA Violations

Large classrooms, distractions, and following the teaching plan – Wisconsin teachers have a lot on their minds as they teach day to day. What could start as a well-meaning e-mail or question could actually turn into a FERPA violation? Violations can occur in many forms. Some examples include:

  • A teacher wants to use a new application as a learning tool for his students. Without consulting the school board or their law team, the teacher has students install the application on school-issued tablets. The application is free and uses data mining, which puts students’ data security at risk. Since students’ information may be released to an unauthorized party, this is a violation of FERPA.
  • An honors organization contacts a teacher about one of her star students. Hoping to help the student, the teacher shares his GPA with the organization. However, the teacher didn’t get consent from the teacher or his parents before releasing the information, violating FERPA.
  • Between classes, two students start to fight. One student’s teacher reads an incident report and discusses the fight with another teacher. By sharing information from a written report, the teacher violated the student’s privacy rights.

Consequences of Violating FERPA

The consequences of violating FERPA can greatly vary. A one-time violation from a well-meaning teacher is unlikely to see any serious consequences. The teacher or school must engage in multiple intentional violations. Many parents or students think they can sue a teacher for violating FERPA, but that’s not the case. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an individual has no private right to action in FERPA violations. Instead, the best thing to do in the case of FERPA violations is to file a complaint within 180 days of the incident. Complaints go directly to the Student Privacy Policy Office of the U.S. Department of Education. They can be filed by either the parent or an eligible student and must be done in writing. 

The most severe consequence of a FERPA violation is the withdrawal of federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education. This impacts more than just the teacher who violated the act; it can apply to the individual school, the entire school district, or a state educational agency. While a FERPA violation has never resulted in the loss of funding to an institution, it’s a very real possibility that all teachers and schools should consider.

Other consequences may not be legal, but will more than likely impact the teacher’s life. School districts have terminated a teacher’s employment over FERPA violations, and because of the potential consequences, a teacher may not be eligible for hire at other schools after a violation. Teachers are obligated to protect their students’ interests, and that includes their privacy. 

How can a school avoid FERPA violations?

Violating FERPA can come with serious consequences. Having a law team on your school’s side can help to avoid FERPA violations, protecting teachers and students from unnecessary stress while keeping their rights intact. At Atolles Law, S.C., our lawyers are experts when it comes to FERPA and other common school legal matters. We can advise your school on remaining compliant with FERPA to keep students’ privacy intact and your institution in good standing. Contact us today to discuss your school’s needs and learn more about what we can do for your school.