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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Student confidentiality versus a teacher's right to know

It's the time of year when students begin to face the reality of finishing up for the semester and positioning themselves for a strong finish. At least most of them. There are a few kids, however, that just, um, how to say it? go PLUMB CRAZY and do really stupid things.

So there have been a few instances when teachers have been stonewalled when a student of theirs has been disciplined. Frankly, refusal by administrators to inform teachers regarding student discipline is not only unprofessional and wrong, it is against the law. Federal law.

There is a federal law known as FERPA, which stands for Family Educational Records and Privacy Act. It defines and limits the kind of information that school districts can reveal, and to whom. Our administrators are pretending or are deluded into believing that FERPA enables them to hide information regarding students from teachers.

Apparently, the ability to read something all the way through is not merely lacking among our students, because the law also CLEARLY states that educational professionals can be informed of what is in students' records even without parental permission. This is called the "need-to-know" exception. Basically, FERPA is very clear that teachers who are responsible for direct instruction of a student have the right to know about the educational records of that student, and this includes discipline.

Beyond that, however, this bizarre claim of counterproductive confidentiality also blatantly violates state law where I work.

This is the matter of reason: how can we work with students if we do not know if they are prone to certain behaviors, or, unfortunately, even violent? We spend more time with students by a factor of hundreds each school year than do administrators. This is also a matter of worker safety, frankly. Finally, there can be no communication and cooperation between administration and teachers if we do not know what is going on in students' lives. This harms the productive functioning of the school.

After one recent (unknown) incident, we were called into an impromptu faculty meeting to be told that something bad was going on and to ask to keep an ear out for rumors or information that could help in the administrators' investigation. One brave soul actually asked "Look out for what?" The repeated response? "I can't tell you due to confidentiality, but let me know if you see or hear anything about this incident." Once again-- what incident?

That was helpful. And an idiotic -and insulting!- waste of my time. The very clear implication is that we are not to be trusted with information that would make us more productive. What do they think we are going to do-- go around and gossip? And here's the stupid thing: this ridiculous and illegal denial just stirs the rumor mill even harder. Dolts.

I mean seriously, this is high school. If we reported every rumor we heard kids spreading, we would be doing nothing but reporting all day long. How long has it been since these people were in a classroom? Never mind, I know the answer.


The school district will get away with this kind of denigration of teachers' rights as long as we LET them get away with it.

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6 Comments:

At 11/18/10, 8:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is timely and SO true. Thanks for your empowering information about FERPA and our right as educators to know about our students. We just had an inservice about dealing with students who have addiction issues and our responsibility to report concerns and one of the main complaints of teachers was that we are never trusted with any information. It is always chalked up to confidentiality. Clearly, that is just an excuse.

 
At 11/18/10, 9:07 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

Ms. Cornelius....BABUSKA ! Thanks for an informative article....our admin. also "hides" stuff about students from us. I raised a stink a couple of years ago upon learning that I had a student who had been reinstated to the district after being expelled for his role in putting dangerous substances in a teachers beverage.
Admin. admitted they were wrong....S O R R Y ......and promised it wouldn't happen again.

Teachers have the right to know about such things.

 
At 11/19/10, 5:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the knowing glances and whispered comments that annoy me most. Some know and won't share, despite the child's attendance in my room 5 (okay, only 3 or 4) days a week. Or the admin who says, "There are more layers than you know here." And like an onion, it stinks.

 
At 11/19/10, 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like the kid from a severe behavior unit who was there for attacking a teacher who "pissed him off"? And we found out after he had been in my room disrupting from the moment he entered?

 
At 11/20/10, 9:36 AM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

It's amazing they can warn you to look out for something they won't tell you about. It's like they're asking for your help to find something but refusing to tell you what it is.

What do they teach people in administration courses? If it's this, I'm glad I haven't taken them.

 
At 11/23/10, 8:41 PM, Blogger Mr. W said...

This is something that I have been asking about lately. I have a student who missed a couple of days and I went to their counselor and asked why. The counselor didn't really want to tell me and said the student has been through a lot. I said how. I was then told that the student was at the scene of an accident a few years back that killed another student. Kind of helpful to know this.

The best was a senior teacher about 6 years ago. He noticed a student was missing for awhile and finally went to the counselor to see where the student was. The counselor told him the student missed a meeting with his parole officer so the student was sent back to juvie.

Way to look out for the teacher right?

I always felt that we should know this so that we can be an extra set of eyes in the class. But no one wants us to know, yet we are supposed to help them out.

 

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