A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Privacy rights?

I got some distressing news the other day, and it's only because I badgered it out of a counselor. One of my students has been sitting in my class for over a month, and I was not informed that he hears voices and sees menacing presences who follow him around most of the time. This boy is a wonderful young person who is intelligent and thoughtful, and remarkably in control-- he simply asks to leave the room when he feels overwhelmed and goes to a safe room in the school.

It doesn't matter how I got suspicious-- let's just say I observed a strange episode that made no sense when he was leaving another teacher's classroom.

I am nonplussed, to say the least. Apparently, his guardian does not want his teachers to know, and has insisted that his 504 simply say that he is "depressed."

How is it legal or ethical for this information to be deliberately concealed from me? How is it legal to put a lie on a 504? I have read FERPA. Here's what I found on the Ed dept website, since I began to question myself as to whether I remembered the law correctly.

"Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record. However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31): School officials with legitimate educational interest;" etc.

Is a teacher who spends an hour or more a day with a student not a school official with a legitimate educational interest? How can I be expected to educate this young man if a condition of this magnitude is considered none of my business? Elsewhere on the Ed dept website, I found this:

"As first enacted, FERPA contained five exceptions to the prior written consent rule for disclosures to...other school officials, including teachers within the educational institution or local educational agency who have legitimate educational interests. The 1974 amendments clarified that the agency or institution determines which school officials have "legitimate educational interests." The 1994 IASA amendments added a requirement that the specific educational interests of the child for whom consent would otherwise be required are included among legitimate educational interests of school officials.

"The 1994 amendments also clarified that nothing in FERPA prohibited an agency or institution from disclosing information about disciplinary actions taken against students to teachers and school officials, including those in other schools, who have legitimate educational interests in the behavior of the student. The No Child Left Behind Act amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require each State to provide an assurance to the Secretary that it has a procedure in place to facilitate the transfer of disciplinary records regarding a student's suspension or expulsion to any elementary or secondary school where the student is enrolled or intends to enroll."

So here's the conclusions to which I have come:
1. The concern for the safety of this student has been sacrificed, since he has been placed with educational professionals throughout the day who have been willfully misled about conditions which definitely can cause him to harm himself or others.
2. The concern for the best and least restrictive education for this student is endangered, since the educational professionals who work with him every day are willfully deceived about his condition.
3. The concern for the safety of other students is not even considered, which is a violation of their rights.
4. The concern for my safety has been abrogated, which is a violation of my rights.
5. Apparently the powers that be in my school (assistant principals, principals, counselors) believe that I and my fellow teachers are not professionals with the best interests and intentions toward our students.
6. These people have decided to willfully misinterpret and misrepresent the law since they feel no obligation nor concern for anyone involved... merely because they fear a legal challenge, probably?

And before you think I am jumping to conclusions, let me emphasize that this is far from the first time I have caught these people at my school engaging in such behaviors as concealing and lying about student discipline and/or diagnoses, whether it involved one of my students or even when it involved a student behaving in a threatening manner toward me personally. I have had referrals not returned to me and referrals "lost" in some amazingly coincidental snafus. I have never been anything but circumspect and above-board in my dealings with the behavior, discipline, and education of my students.

I am grateful that nothing bad happened while I am in the dark. I will continue to teach, guide, and care for this student no matter what.

But some other people are on my list right now.

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At 9/15/05, 9:03 AM, Blogger Jess said...

This is interesting, and also disturbing. As an outsider to the educational system, etc., my first question here would be...why would this child's guardian decide to wilfully misrepresent his condition? Would it not be in the best interest of the child, not to mention his teachers and fellow students, to acknowledge and document the true challenges in this case, so that he may be educated in a manner that will be most effective? One would almost think that "image" was trumping concern for the child's welfare. Oh. Wait. Yeah.

At 9/15/05, 2:09 PM, Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Maybe this child has been teased at other schools, which doesn't help the student any. The teachers at least should know what is going on so that they are aware of signs of distress.

At 9/15/05, 9:00 PM, Blogger Fred said...

First - you have a wonderful attitude. In the end, it's the student that counts.

Second, I'm amazed that you didn't know this student had those issues. You have a right to know.

Third - Shame on the political correctness that leads to this kind of situation. We need to be informed when there’s an issue like this. If we know, we can help. If we don’t, it can only get worse.

At 9/15/05, 10:28 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

IMO, teachers should be informed if a student has a condition such as you described. Teachers are suposed to be professionals who can handle such data about a student and it can help us know better how to deal with him/her.
On the other hand, sometimes one of the things that make teaching HARD is knowing too much about a student and their life.

Thanks for going the 'extra' to find out about this student.

At 9/20/05, 1:18 AM, Blogger EdWonk said...

We would like to add your site to The EduSphere. Would it be OK?


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