Teachers' Responsibilities for Student Confidentiality

Teacher and student confidentiality is dictated by law.

In today’s age of privacy laws and identity protection, teachers seem to have a larger responsibility to protect students' privacy than they have in the past. Previously, teachers only needed to use their own discretion when working with students and their families, now laws govern some of those interactions. There are so many ethical minefields in society today over confidentiality that teachers may have difficulty knowing when their duty as a teacher is required or when personal discretion can be used. Fortunately, there are some solid rules to help guide teachers.

1 The Laws

State laws and the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) govern confidentiality within the classroom. These codes, statutes and acts dictate the type of information that teachers must keep confidential between herself and the student and the type of information that the teacher has the responsibility to tell the parent. The laws distinctly spell out confidentiality responsibility in grades and medical information.

2 Grade Confidentiality

Teachers have the responsibility to disclose student grades to the parent, but legally cannot make those grades public knowledge. Test scores, such as those from state issued exams, can be disclosed, but the teacher must remove all of the student’s personal information attached to the score. The exception to the grade confidentiality is with group grading that many teachers perform as a learning tool. According to the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, the U.S. Supreme court decided in 2002 that the practice, also known as peer grading, did not violate confidentiality laws and was actually beneficial to students in the classroom. Other than in peer grading situations, the teacher cannot share the students' grades with anyone other than the parent.

3 Medical Privacy

Teachers do have access to the child’s medical files, but that information cannot be disclosed to anyone but the parent and the child. The teacher does have the responsibility to inform the parent of suspected medical issues that the child exhibits within the classroom. However, teachers are prohibited by FERPA laws from subjecting the child to tests without the parent’s consent. And, parents have the right to refuse without recourse.

4 Responsibility to Report

Teachers can keep the confidence of the child in any other topic, but must disclose dangerous information. This includes anything that the child says or does which alludes to behavior like abuse, suicide, drug and alcohol use, eating disorders and similar behaviors. The teacher has the responsibility to place the student’s well-being above confidence in these situations.

Jonita Davis is freelance writer and marketing consultant. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including "The LaPorte County Herald Argus" and Work.com. Davis also authored the book, "Michigan City Marinas," which covers the history of the Michigan City Port Authority. Davis holds a bachelor's degree in English from Purdue University.