American Students’ Right to Privacy

Most Americans have a strong belief in the right to privacy, especially when it involves students. Parents and pupils put their trust in the agents of education data to ensure their personal information such as social security number; date of birth and address is properly protected and used only for lawful purposes.

The People We Are Becoming

New, fast paced, technology does amazing things for students but it also encompasses a variety of hazards.  Students are able to complete entrance applications online as well as apply for scholarships, loans and grants. However, a vast amount of sensitive data such as full name, address, date of birth and social security number must be collected from agencies in order to determine if potential students meet the eligibility requirements.

Although the right to privacy is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the right to privacy can be seen in the 9th Amendment. The Supreme Court has stated, “Several of the amendments create this right to a certain degree.”


It’s important for students know and understand their right to privacy.  Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) identifiable information from a student cannot be released to any third party without the consent of the student.  If an institution releases such records they risk loosing their eligibility for federal funding.  But this raises some questions. What constitutes a student record? And what is to be done when student privacy protection conflicts with other laws?

In Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo, a case brought by a parent whose children in grade-school had been embarrassed by peer grading, the Supreme Court concluded that the common practice of asking students to exchange papers and grade each other’s work did not constitute a violation of FERPA.

In lieu of the case Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a former law professor stated,  ”Correcting a classmate’s work can be as much a part of the assignment as taking the test itself.” According to Nesha Bailey, a 7thgrade student, “It’s good to get feedback from other students. Although the parent argued that the disclosure of her children’s work and scores to student graders violated privacy rights, the court decided that due to the grades not yet being recorded in the teacher’s grade book, they were not “maintained” by the institution as required by FERPA. In addition, the court noted that peer grading is a lawful educational tool allowing students to learn from the grading process.

Student Graded Test

Student Graded Test

“Sometimes we learn better by having other students grade our work”. Bailey stated. “But there are times when a student did not do well on an assignment and are embarrassed to have other students grade their paper.”

Today, privacy policy brings on a unique challenge. It’s very difficult to protect privacy information against computer hackers and identity theft. However, public schools are government run and federal law requires institutions of higher education to pay special attention to the privacy rights of students.

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