News

Rules tight for disclosing information on students

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

As students return to classes in September, parents will have paperwork to fill out, including whether the school district can give their child’s information to groups ranging from the news media to military recruiters.

Federal Way Public Schools parents will fill out a two-sided document with contact information that includes age, grade, language spoken at home, address, phone number, who to contact in an emergency and whether the student rides a bus, walks or gets there in a car.

The district uses that information in case there is an emergency or a need to contact the parents. However, other groups can have access to the student’s directory information, including military recruiters, the media, PTA-type groups and police.

Information isn’t given to private companies unless there is a contract with the district, according to the district.

The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act requires districts to give the contact information to military recruiters if parents don’t prohibit it in writing. Recruiters request high school students’ information since they are close to enlistment age.

Districts that refuse to give the information would lose their federal funding. However, private schools are not obligated to give information to recruiters if they do not receive federal dollars.

The NCLB states if parents don’t make a choice, they waive the right to who can request their children’s contact information. Directory information can include age, photograph, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, weight and height of athletes, diplomas, awards and the most recent school attended.

The number of names released in Federal Way vary. Names of more than 120 students from Federal Way High School were released to military recruiters. At Decatur and Thomas Jefferson high schools, the numbers were much higher –– 427 and 481, respectively.

District officials don’t know why Federal Way High’s number was lower –– the schools have about the same student populations –– except that more FWHS parents declined to allow their children’s names be released.

Each school district can determine how it will notify parents, guardians and adult students about releasing the directory information.

School districts giving student directory information to military recruiters is nothing new. Before the NCLB was enacted in 2001, districts were obligated to give the same information to recruiters. The difference was before NCLB altered the K-12 education landscape, districts could refrain from giving information if the parent didn’t make the choice on the emergency card. Since 2001, the districts can no longer withhold the information from recruiters or other organizations that might request it.

Douglas Smith, who’s with the Army’s recruiting division, said the federal law’s impact on military recruiters has been the few schools that denied access to their students’ contact information now have to provide it.

He said he doesn’t know if the law has helped the Army’s recruitment numbers.

Federal Way schools give parents two choices: Either agree that all of the groups the district lists can have access to the directory information, or none of them.

District officials explained that giving parents two choices was the result of advice from lawyers.

But not every district interprets NCLB and the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act –– another federal law that directs districts about what student information is public –– like Federal Way. Tacoma Public Schools will have four choices in the fall:

• A blanket order not to release information with the parent’s permission.

• Don’t let the students have access to the Internet.

• Don’t allow the student to be videotaped or photographed for television, newspapers or district publications without parental consent.

• Don’t release contact information to military recruiters.

Tacoma Public Schools’ general counsel, Susan Schreuers, explained through a district spokeswoman that the options on the district’s form were so parents have a clear understanding of what they’re being asked.

The Tacoma district gives parents the option after signing the form to agree to release their children’s contact information for a one-time events like a press photo, district publication or a teacher’s research. However, parents don’t have that option with the military recruiting selection or access to the Internet.

The Auburn School District has seven options for parents to deny information: Military recruiters, colleges and universities, youth groups, scholarship grantors, parent-student organizations, the media and anyone the parents specifically name.

Chris Burton, director of legal services at the Auburn district, said the multiple choices reflect good customer service to parents. Feedback from parents has been positive, he said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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