FAirfax County Public Schools have been disclosing confidential student information for years without students’ permission to do so.
This was the claim made in an article on Special Education Action, a website dedicated to informing parents about their rights in public school systems such as Fairfax, particularly in the area of special education. The article, written by site editor Callie Oettinger, explains how the school system may have violated the rules of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
The revelation came when Oettinger received a USB drive from FCPS with documents that responded to a FERPA request she made. This disc contained 12 unwritten reports containing personally identifiable information about the students and their families. Oettinger makes it clear in her story that she did not request these documents.
Of these documents, seven of them relate to nearly 500 students at South County High School belonging to the class of 2022. According to Oettinger, these breached documents include the names of the students, their FCPS ID numbers, their email addresses. FCPS, the schools to which they belong. registered, the names of their parents and / or guardians, as well as the e-mail addresses of said parents and / or guardians.
In addition to the remaining five reports, the documents contain information on thousands of students not only at South County High School but also at Hayfield High School, Edison High School, West Potomac High School , Lake Braddock High School and FCPS Online Campus.
According to Oettinger, students in the FCPS system have the option of taking courses in other high schools if the courses the students are taking are not offered in the high school where they are enrolled. Oettinger, in his own words, speculates that this ability to go between county schools for classes is why South County students are listed on the reports received.
A corresponding article on the website lists several FERPA rule violations, known as the FERPA Violation Report Sheet for Fairfax County. The list of violations on the article dates back to 2017, where county schools released information from students, including Oettinger’s own children who are students in the county. The list also contains information about violations that were shared with Oettinger by parents whose children attend county schools.
In addition to the latest documents, the list also contains a timeline of other data breaches, internal documents, email correspondence, and FERPA requests.
“In response to a high volume FERPA request, an email was provided and attachments were not removed when they should have been,” said Julie Moult, media relations manager of FCPS. “FCPS is tightening up its processes and increasing training opportunities in data processing to ensure this does not happen again.”