U.S. Department of Education Launches New Student Privacy Website

In June the U.S. Department of Education launched a new website related to student privacy issues. The website serves as the primary source of best-practice tips, technical assistance, and training on the administration of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other topics related to student privacy. (Access the website at https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/.)

The website replaces the legacy Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) websites, both of which were considered outdated and contained duplicative information. The change reflects the internal reorganization within the Department of Education as set forth in the new FERPA regulations, which went into effect on February 21, 2017. The new regulations changed the name of the office that administers and enforces FERPA from the FPCO to the Office of the Chief Privacy Officer (OCPO). The OCPO’s student privacy functions are divided between two divisions: FPCO, which investigates and enforces complaints related to FERPA, and the Student Privacy Policy and Assistance Division (SPPAD), which develops policy and guidance on student privacy issues. The regulations did not change the student/parent rights or educational agencies’ or institutions’ obligations under FERPA.

The website combines the information and functions previously available on the PTAC and FPCO websites into one user-friendly source. It offers training materials via modules, videos, and webinars, as well as guidance and practice tips for protecting student privacy, which are organized according to various subjects including data governance, data sharing, disclosure avoidance, and security best practices, among others. Information can also be filtered according to the audience (e.g., K-12 officials, post-secondary school officials, vendors, parents and students, etc.) to provide more direct answers. Dear Colleague Letters and other significant policy communications are also accessible through the website, although they are no longer archived according to the year of release. The website also allows parents or students over the age of 18 to directly file FERPA complaints electronically with the FPCO or via mail by downloading the complaint form.

In summary, the new website gives users access to enhanced study privacy information in one central location rather than through multiple sources that were more difficult to navigate. Not all FERPA issues can be addressed via the website; in any situation where FERPA questions arise, districts should consider seeking legal advice.

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