Who knows your student?
From marketers to the military, kids’ info is in
FRANKLIN COUNTY: Information is power, and to everyone
from commercial marketers and data collection
companies to military recruiters, information about
America's teenage students is not only powerful - it's
essential to reaching a lucrative market.
Those seeking the attention of the youth market gather
information from a wide variety of sources- including
online and other surveys - but one other logical stop
is schools, potential gold mines of youth-related
data. And federal law often allows the release of
contact and other information these groups are looking
Local school officials said this week that commercial
requests for student contact information are
relatively uncommon here though, and when they do
come, officials take their roles as keepers of this
information quite seriously.
"At schools we're constantly being barraged with ways
to access students ... and it may even be (for)
something really good," said Franklin West Supervisory
Union Superintendent Armando Vilaseca. "Our job is to
be an education institution. It's not a way for people
to access students to make a profit."
Still, data mining is a reality in this age of
information, and for parents concerned about their
children's privacy, an awareness of who wants
information and where they collect it from can be
important. The start of a new school year is the
perfect time to learn. Ultimately, the decision of
what information can be released - and to whom - is up
to parents, and the first half of September is the
time to do it.
Marketers & federal law meet local policy
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) -
passed in 1974 with the Federal Privacy Act and the
Freedom of Information Act - is the federal law that
deals with the privacy of student education records.
It applies to all schools that receive federal
funding. FERPA protections of private and educational
records – transcripts, for example – are relatively
stringent, limited largely to parents and educators.
Many parents, though, are surprised to find out that
more general information about their children - names,
addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, honors
and awards - can be more openly shared under FERPA.
FERPA calls this "directory information" that "is
generally not considered harmful or an invasion of
privacy if released."
Mark Oettinger, the General Counsel for the Vermont
Department of Education, said, "The 'directory
information' piece is the exception."
According to FERPA, directory information can be
disclosed by schools without parent consent.
The finer details are left up to local districts like
Franklin County schools, who are often much more
guarded about who can get this information. At the
district level, local officials determine what
non-school groups, if any, can be given directory
information. Whether it's a local group charity group,
an individual request, or a national magazine company,
local schools' policies are generally a few steps more
stringent than the federal baseline law.
"We don't provide any students' names or numbers to
outside groups," said Enosburg Falls Principal Ed
Grossman. "We're very protective."
Richford High School Principal Dale Guertin agreed:
"We're just really careful about that today ... It's a
rarity to give anything out."
Missisquoi Valley Union Principal Chaunce Benedict
said that few such requests, at least from commercial
or marketing entities, come into the school. "In my
view it's important ... and good that these
protections are in place, but really in my experience
it's not that common at all to see a (request),"
One exception is photographers looking to offer senior
portraits. MVU's policy is to release the directory
information in this case.
On the other hand, the policy at Fairfax's Bellows
Free Academy specifically limits all solicitation, so
any commercial request - even on a small, local scale
- is turned away.
BFA-Fairfax Principal Scott Lang pointed to a tuxedo
rental company that perennially requests directory
"And every year I say no," Lang said. "We really try
to sugar everything back to what our mission is, and
it's about stimulating kids academically ... We're in
the education business."
Lang said he is aware of schools in other states that
take a distinctly different approach, in large part
because of the need to supplement education budgets.
Lang started his education career in Massachusetts,
where "they have schools that are selling their lists
for money," he said.
No Franklin County schools raise money this way.
While general requests for directory information can
be more closely controlled by school policies, a
request from military recruiters for contact
information is a clear - and for some a controversial
This change came about in 2002 with the passage of No
Child Left Behind. Whereas FERPA allowed local
districts to release directory information only if
they so choose, NCLB required that the information be
released to military recruiters upon request. This has
led to an increase in regular annual requests from all
military branches, school officials said.
"I, in fact, have a request from a recruiter on my
desk for that information right now," said Benedict.
"But I'm not going to give that information out until
our handbook has gone out ... (because that) informs
parents that - by law - that information has to be
given out to military recruiters unless parents ask
that they do not."
Unless parents specifically notify school districts
that they do not want this information released to
recruiters, schools are required to provide this list.
"(Parents) have the right to opt out," Grossman said.
Schools are also required to notify parents at the
beginning of the school year of privacy and
information protection policies, and in particular to
let them know of their option to block release of
directory information - whether to recruiters or
Many print the policy prominently in student
handbooks, while others advertise the information
Lang said that three years ago, after he received some
complaints that the school policy was not well-known
enough by parents, BFA-Fairfax began sending a letter
directly to parents.
"My awareness got raised. And it's a fairly easy
letter to write," Lang said.