M-A’s No Privileges List May Violate Federal Privacy Law

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In a flood of Canvas announcements, one stood out:

Hello students,

If your student ID number is listed below, it means you have been added to our no privileges list because you owe detention or community service hours. This means that you will not be able to attend our school dances until your hours have been completed. Please check in to the AVP office to complete your hours.

Thank you,

M-A Administration

Canvas announcement on September 28th 2023.

The announcement contained 39 student IDs of people on the No Privileges list. As the announcement stated, students are added to the list when they do not serve their detention or community service hours. Yet, disclosing the students who are on the list appears to violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99). 

FERPA is a federal law that, among other things, regulates the disclosure of “education records.” In §99.31, the Act outlines circumstances that could allow the disclosure of records without prior consent—none of which apply to the No Privileges list. 

Under FERPA, even though student IDs are not directly identifiable, due to the ability of students to find out the name of the student by searching the ID in Gmail, ID numbers “allow a reasonable person in the school community, who does not have personal knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to identify the student with reasonable certainty.” (20 U.S.C. 1232g) 

Administrative Vice Principal Nicholas Muys brought the list to M-A from Sequoia High School when he joined M-A’s administration five years ago. He said, “In the past, we have sent individual emails to the students on the list, but we found that it was not effective, as the email would get lost in students’ inboxes.”

Students not knowing they are on the list brings up additional challenges. Muys said, “We want to avoid students showing up to dances all dressed up and then having to deny them entrance. That just puts everyone in an awkward position.”  

Senior Sergio Jimenez only discovered he was on the list after a friend noticed his student ID number. Muys said, “The idea is that students look for their own ID.” Muys did not know if students were searching the list. Of the four students on the list interviewed, all of them found out from someone else telling them.

Jimenez said, “I think it’s pretty inconsiderate to send out the list. It was like publicly shaming people for things they did.” An anonymous student added that being on the list was “humiliating.” All four of the interviewed students wished they were not identified publicly in the No Privileges list. Muys said, “We should consider the privacy concerns more deeply, and I am open to doing that.”

According to Woodside High School Administrative Vice Principal Wendy Porter, Woodside also has a “No Privileges list.” Students are informed by the person who assigned the detention and further reminders are sent directly to the student and parent. 

Carlmont High School Administrative Vice Principal Gregg Patner also confirmed that Carlmont reserves the right to restrict students with unserved detentions from after-school events, but declined to elaborate how students are informed of their restriction. 

At Sequoia, Muys said, “Sequoia barred students from attending rallies and any significant event. They would put up [physical copies of] the list all over campus weeks before any major event.” Typically, M-A only bars students from attending dances instead of rallies or other events. 

In response to questions about student privacy, Muys responded, “I am always open to changing the policy. If there’s another way to let students know that is less of a risk to their privacy, I am all for it.” Muys emphasized that the intention behind the Canvas Announcement was to allow students to rectify their disciplinary punishment and avoid showing up to an event and then realizing that they are unable to attend. He added that informing students in person that they need to serve their detention would be labor intensive and could disrupt their education.

Although publishing the No Privileges list appears to be a violation of FERPA, the only organization that can make that determination is the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Privacy Policy Office, which is tasked with administering FERPA. As outlined in §99.67, the United States Secretary of Education can remove federal funding to any organization that the Office determines violated the Act. The Sequoia Union High School District received $8.5 million in federal funding this fiscal year. The Secretary of Education has never removed all federal funding from an organization, but instead typically informs the organization of corrective actions in order to come into compliance with FERPA. 

The Chronicle reached out to the Student Privacy Helpdesk at the U.S. Department of Education. Although they were not able to make a determination without an investigation, they referenced §99.37, which allows certain “directory information” which is defined in §99.3 as  “information contained in an education record of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed” to be released. However, given that the No Privileges list discloses the disciplinary status of students, it would not be considered directory information. Students and parents must be informed of the directory information released in the school’s annual FERPA notification. It appears that the school has not sent the required annual FERPA notification, which informs students of their rights and the directory information that is released, another violation of the Act.  

Arden Margulis was a junior in his second year of journalism at the M-A Chronicle before he tested out of high school. He was the M-A Chronicle's Webmaster when it was a finalist for the Online Pacemaker. During his first year, Arden wrote a two-part series on Paper Tutoring, which won First Place News Story from Santa Clara University. Arden was a finalist for Writer of the Year from the National Scholastic Press Association. He also won First Place News Writing from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for an article on FERPA and M-A's No Privileges List. Arden focused on news and legal research along with sending Public Records Act requests to government agencies. He was most proud of an editorial he worked on about M-A's treatment of sexual assault survivors. He left the M-A Chronicle to intern at the Almanac and go to college earlier.

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