Volume 4, Number 3 May 2003

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Disclosure of Health Information Sends School District to Court

Pupil Rights Law Allows Parents to Opt Students Out of Surveys

Report Cites Effects on Communities When Families Lack Health Insurance

Worth Noting

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Pupil Rights Law Allows Parents to Opt Students Out of Surveys

A 1998 federal law, the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), allows parents to inspect instructional materials used in connection with any U.S. Department of Education-funded "survey, analysis, or evaluation." The law, often called the "Hatch amendment" or the "Grassley amendment" for the members of Congress who introduced it, also requires schools to obtain written parental consent before minor students participate in Education Department-funded surveys that ask questions about personal or family matters.

As the result of recent amendments to PPRA in the No Child Left Behind education law (Public Law 107-110, signed January 8, 2002), parents have additional rights to examine materials with regard to the surveying of minor students, even when the surveys are not Education Department-funded, and to opt their children out of surveys and certain non-emergency medical examinations.

The Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) in the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), has responsibility for the expanded Protection of Pupil Rights law, also known as the "Tiahrt amendment."

The original PPRA law required schools and contractors to make educational materials available for inspection by parents and provided a list of survey questions that would trigger the need for written parental permission. Those requirements remain in place. The trigger questions include inquiries about:

  1. political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the studentís parent;
  2. mental and psychological problems of the student or the studentís family;
  3. sex behavior or attitudes;
  4. illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;
  5. critical appraisals of other individuals with whom students have close family relationships;
  6. legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those with lawyers, physicians, and ministers;
  7. religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or studentís parent; or
  8. income, other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program.

The PPRA compliance office in the U.S. Department of Education points out that these requirements apply when a survey is funded, at least in part, by any program administered by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Under the Tiahrt amendment that took effect in 2002, additional requirements are now in place, and they apply as well to surveys funded by sources other than the U.S. Department of Education. The law now requires public elementary and secondary schools to "develop and adopt policiesóin conjunction with parents," regarding:

  1. the rights of parents to inspect, upon request, a survey created by a third party before the survey is administered or distributed by a school to students;
  2. arrangements to protect student privacy in a survey if it includes any of the eight items noted above;
  3. the right of parents to inspect any instructional materials used as part of the education curriculum;
  4. administration of physical examinations or screenings that the school may administer to students;
  5. collection, disclosure, or use of personal information collected from students for the purpose of marketing, selling;
  6. the right of parents to inspect any instrument used in collecting information for marketing or selling.

Schools must notify parents of their PPRA policies at least once annually and must give parents ample opportunity to opt out (remove their child) from participation in surveys containing one or more of the eight items of information specified in the original law.

Parents are also allowed to remove their children from any non-emergency invasive physical examination or screening that is required for attendance or is not necessary to protect the immediate health and safety of the student or other students.

Explanation of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment is posted on the Education Departmentís Family Policy Compliance Office website at www.ed.gov/offices/OM/fpco/ppra/index.html. The compliance office indicates it will publish regs covering the new parts of the law.

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