I can’t believe my daughter failed! How did her lab partner do?
It seems like Cole is always sick. What’s wrong with him?
I’m sure it wasn’t my son’s fault. That other kid has been suspended before, hasn’t he?
Why is Hazel in the group with the kid with ADHD?
Parents, if you’re asking your child’s teacher these kinds of questions about other students, it’s time to stop. While I understand that most of these types of questions come from wanting to advocate for your own child or even just a place of curiosity, they violate the privacy of other students. And that’s just not OK. Here’s why.
Legally, teachers can’t tell you anything.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Teachers, as representatives of public schools, have a legal responsibility to protect student privacy and safeguard the confidentiality of their records. Disclosure of information from a student’s education record to any third party is strictly prohibited. If we don’t follow the law, there could be legal consequences for us as well as the school (such as losing federal funding).
Here’s a list of things that we can’t talk about when it comes to other kids:
- Health records
- Disciplinary records
- Test results
- Attendance records
You wouldn’t want us to talk to other parents about your child.
Not everything falls under the protection of FERPA, but that still doesn’t mean we’re going to tell you about it. And think about it: Don’t you want your child’s teachers to respect their privacy? I wouldn’t tell another student’s parent what reading group your child is in, who they sit with at lunch, or who picks them up from school. And likewise, I won’t tell you that information about other people’s kids.
We put the safety of our students first.
Maintaining student confidentiality isn’t only a matter of legality—for some, it’s also a matter of safety. As teachers, we’re very well aware that students with disabilities, health conditions, and LGBTQ+ identities are at greater risk for bullying and harassment. So if you’re asking about “a boy wanting to use the girls’ bathroom,” you can just stop right there because teachers aren’t in the business of outing students. What I will tell you is that everyone in our school is using the bathroom that feels safe for them, and that’s the end of it.
It’s a slippery slope.
Look, I’ve been in the position of really wanting Madeline’s mom’s phone number so that I can schedule a playdate, but I’ve never gone so far as to ask my kid’s teacher because I know it’s not cool. It seems like a benign request, but a teacher can’t know my true intentions. Maybe Madeline’s mom doesn’t want her number given out (and she could have any number of reasons for this, none of which are any of my business as a fellow classroom parent). And if teachers start caving to “small” requests, it’s an easier jump to potentially more serious violations.
Parental involvement and engagement are absolutely critical to school success. So when it comes to your child, by all means, ask as many questions as you want. Just leave their classmates out of it.