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Forum Guide to Protecting the Privacy of Student Information: State and Local Education Agencies

2.C. U.S. Department of Education-Funded Surveys and Studies

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), amended in 1994 by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, specifies that information collected from students through surveys, research, analyses, or evaluations funded by the U.S. Department of Education must be available for parents to review. If parents ask, the surveys or evaluation materials must be made available for review. Surveys administered under the auspices of federally sponsored programs that are conducted in elementary or secondary schools fall within this law.

PPRA protects the rights of students and their parents in two ways. First, it states that parents have the opportunity to review certain federal surveys or instructional materials used in conjunction with surveys and to provide consent for their child’s participation in them. Second, PPRA requires that state or local education agencies, and their contractors or representatives, obtain prior consent from the parent if they plan to collect information from students concerning the following eight items:

  • political affiliation;
  • mental and psychological problems;
  • sexual behavior and attitudes;
  • illegal or self-incriminating behavior;
  • critical assessments of other individuals or family members;
  • privileged information given to lawyers, physicians, or ministers;
  • religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs (newly added under NCLB); and
  • income (other than what is required by law for program eligibility).

Although PPRA stipulates that education agencies must give parents the right to review and consent before their children participate in surveys, the law does not require that parents be given copies of the surveys. However, they must be able to inspect the actual survey and related instructional materials.

Section 1061 of NCLB amended PPRA to give parents more rights with regard to the surveying of minor students, the collection of information from students for marketing purposes, and certain nonemergency medical examinations. PPRA has been referred to as the “Hatch Amendment” and the “Grassley Amendment” after authors of amendments to the law. Now school officials may hear the law referred to as the “Tiahrt Amendment,” after Congressman Todd Tiahrt who introduced changes regarding surveys to PPRA. The statute is found in 20 USC § 1 232h and the regulations (not yet updated) are found in 34 CFR Part 98.

The new provisions (contained in subsection c) apply (as does FERPA) to education agencies or institutions that receive funds from any program of the Department of Education. Thus, public elementary and secondary schools are subject to the new provisions of PPRA. Here are the new requirements:

  • Schools are required to develop and adopt policies— in conjunction with parents—regarding:
    1. the right 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 the event of the administration of a survey to students, including the right of parents to inspect, upon request, the survey, if the survey contains one or more of the same eight items of information noted above.
    3. the right of parents to inspect, upon request, any instructional material used as part of the educational curriculum for students.
    4. the administration of physical examinations or screenings that the school may administer to students.
    5. the collection, disclosure, or use of personal information collected from students for the purpose of marketing or selling, or otherwise providing information to others for that purpose. However, this does not apply to information collected from students for the exclusive purpose of developing, evaluating, or providing educational products or services for or to students or schools, such as:
      • college or other postsecondary education recruitment, or military recruitment;
      • book clubs, magazines, and programs providing access to low-cost literacy products;
      • curriculum and instructional materials used by elementary and secondary schools;
      • tests and assessments used by schools to provide cognitive, evaluative, diagnostic, clinical, aptitude, or achievement information about students;
      • the sale by students of products or services to raise funds for school-related or education-related activities; and
      • student recognition programs.
    6. the right of parents to inspect, upon request, any instrument used in the collection of information, as described in number 5.
  • Local education agencies must “directly” notify parents of these policies and, at a minimum, provide the notice at least annually, at the beginning of the school year. Parents should be notified within a reasonable period of time should any substantive change be made to the policies.
  • In the notification, the local education agency must offer an opportunity for parents to opt out of (remove their child from) participation in:
    • activities involving the collection, disclosure, or use of personal information collected from students for the purpose of marketing or selling that information, or otherwise providing that information to others for that purpose;
    • the administration of any survey containing one or more of the above-described eight items of information; and
    • any nonemergency, invasive physical examination or screening that is: 1) required as a condition of attendance; 2) administered by the school and scheduled by the school in advance; and 3) not necessary to protect the immediate health and safety of the student, or other students.
  • In the notification, the local education agency must notify parents of the specific or approximate dates during the school year when these activities are scheduled.
  • This law is not intended to preempt applicable provisions of state law that require parental notification.
  • This law does not apply to any physical examination or screening that is permitted or required by state law, including such examinations or screenings permitted without parental notification.
  • The requirements of PPRA do not apply to a survey administered to a student in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • These requirements do not supersede any of the requirements of FERPA.
  • The rights provided to parents under PPRA transfer from the parent to the student when the student turns 18 years old or is an emancipated minor under applicable state law. The law applies to local education agencies, but does not apply to postsecondary institutions.
  • A state education agency or local education agency may use funds provided under Part A of Title V of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to enhance parental involvement in areas affecting the in-school privacy of students.

The Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) of the U.S. Department of Education interprets FERPA and PPRA. The office also responds to complaints about interpreting or applying the laws. Any conflicts between PPRA and state laws or local policies should be forwarded for adjudication to the FPCO within 45 days after the conflict was observed.