In February 2019, the U.S. Department of Education released new Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) guidance about schools’ and school districts’ responsibilities under FERPA relating to disclosures of student information to school resource officers, law enforcement units, and other stakeholders to explain and clarify how FERPA protects student privacy while ensuring the health and safety of all in the school community. See: https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/sites/default/files/resource_document/file/SRO_FAQs_2-5-19_0.pdf.
FERPA permits schools and districts to disclose education records (and the personally identifiable information (“PII”) contained in those records) without consent if the “school officials” have “legitimate educational interests” in the education records. Each school or school district must include in its annual notification what constitutes a “school official” and what constitutes a “legitimate educational interest.” Law enforcement who are employees of a school or district, would typically be considered a “school official.” Law enforcement that are off-duty police officers or school resource officers would typically be considered a “school official” if they fall into four specific categories. The categories include performing an institutional service or function for which the school or district would otherwise use employees, are under the “direct control” of the school or district with respect to the use and maintenance of the education records, are subject to FERPA’s use and re-disclosure requirements in 34 CFR § 99.33(a) allowing PII from education records to be used only for the purposes for which the disclosure was made (e.g., to promote school safety and the physical security of students) and limits the re-disclosure of PII from education records, and meets the criteria specified in the school or district’s annual notification of FERPA rights for being school officials with legitimate educational interests in the education records.