FERPA & School Safety

FERPA & school safety

Keeping students and staff safe is of utmost importance. But, what are the parameters around disclosing information that our school, or someone in it, may have been threatened?

What is your responsibility when you have someone in your building who may pose a threat to others? Confidentiality and individual rights are protected by FERPA, and we can get into hot water if we don’t follow the guidelines.

Fortunately, FERPA provides guidance for this type of situation.

Under FERPA, students have the right to limit the disclosure of records covered by FERPA to third parties, with several important exceptions.

FERPA permits disclosure of information from student records “to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.”

Also, for the purposes of health and safety, FERPA expressly permits the disclosure of information from a student’s education records to officials of other institutions at which the student seeks to enroll.

When discussing exceptions to confidentiality, we commonly use the terminology “if someone is at risk of harming him/herself or others.” Thus, any breach of confidentiality is for the purposes of preventing suicide, preventing harm to others, and assisting the person of concern.

In schools, we may feel more comfortable waiting for a direct threat. But, threats occur in a minority of cases. We do not want to wait for a threat to determine whether others’ safety is at risk. If you have concerns that someone’s behavior indicates a violent mindset, and believe that others are at risk, it’s critical that you share the information with those who can help contain the threat and assist the individual.

Remember, it is far better to face a possible, but unlikely, lawsuit for sharing information, than to do nothing and have to face the consequences of that decision.

School Safety Mandates

Each state in the U.S. has a variety of school safety mandates in place. Are you familiar with the safety requirements of your state?

This is important information that can help protect your school district from a liability lawsuit in the event that an accident, injury or death were to occur. Providing documentation of compliance with all safety mandates will protect you enormously.

To help you with this, the REMS (Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools) Technical Assistance Center has created this simple tool that takes only seconds to use. I encourage you to take a moment right now to click on your state and review whether your district is in compliance. It could save you a lot of time and trouble down the road.

If you need help with any aspect of meeting school safety mandates, I’m happy to offer pointers. Feel free to contact me here.

Liability Quotient (LQ) Revisited

LQ Liability Quotient

I’ve written previously about something I like to call your LQ or Liability Quotient. When I speak of your LQ, I’m referring to the level of risk assumed by your school or district regarding liability for injury, death or trauma to those in your care in the event of an emergency.

Several lawsuits against schools have recently been either filed by, or settled in favor of, those alleging policy omission, insufficient preparation or failure to act in accordance with safety policy when a threat to the school exists, or the unthinkable occurs.

When creating or updating a school safety plan, it’s vital to include all of the essential components of attending to prevention, school climate, threat assessment, physical security, drills, emergency response, and recovery measures. When we fail to cover all of these areas using currently established best practices, we not only expose those in our care to greater hazards, we leave ourselves open to the collateral damage of liability, lawsuits, insurance payouts with subsequent rises in insurance rates, and a tarnished reputation.

To help you evaluate your safety plan, I’ve written a report on The Essential Components of School Safety and you can access it simply by clicking on the link.

If you still have questions or concerns, consider booking a 1-to-1 consultation by either phone or Skype to discuss your concerns and develop a plan so you can keep everyone safe and minimize your liability risk.

Can Schools be Held Liable for Violence?


We are cognizant of covering all of our bases when it comes to school safety. We attend to physical security, school climate, crisis response plans, and prevention efforts. Even with all of those components in place, we wonder, “can we still be held liable if something happens in our school?”

A Colorado legislator recently introduced Senate Bill 213, which would allow the victims of school shootings or their families to sue schools when the violence is “reasonably foreseeable.” State lawmakers say they are “sending a directive to education officials to do more to keep students safe,” according to a recent article in Insurance Journal.

This bill would allow victims and their families to collect up to $350,000 from schools in a move legislators say will motivate education officials to improve school security. “It’s about holding them liable for providing a direct duty to care for those kids in their charge,” Republican Senate President Bill Cadman said.

Currently, schools have governmental immunity from being sued in Colorado. The measure allowing lawsuits would waive the state’s governmental immunity so schools could be sued for shootings.

While this bill has not yet passed, it is moving forward and is something to watch. We also want to keep an eye on the outcome of the wrongful death suit against the school board and city of Newtown, Connecticut that was filed in January by the parents of two students killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

The best way to protect ourselves from these types of legal concerns is also the best way to keep our students and staff safe – attend to all facets of school safety and be certain to review and update our practices and protocols regularly to reflect the most current research, practices and technology.

Families of Newtown Shooting Victims Bring Suit Against School Board-What Does This Mean for the Rest of Us?


The families of two students killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in 2012 have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the town of Newtown, Connecticut and the Board of Education. As an educator, this is very concerning to me. As a school safety consultant, this pushes me even harder to get the word out to school districts that we must do everything within our power to improve our schools’ level of safety.

We now know about the practices that must be followed if we are to attain a high level of safety in our buildings. The lawsuit against the Newtown School Board alleges that Sandy Hook Elementary School had security policies & procedures in place that teachers were not able to follow on the day of the attack. Specifically, the classroom doors could only be locked from the outside with keys and the front of the school did not have security glass. The suit also states that there was a substitute teacher in one of the classrooms where students were killed; this teacher purportedly did not have a room key and had not received training on safety protocol.

What this means for the rest of us is that we need to take an honest look at our physical site vulnerabilities and take action to improve all areas that leave us at risk. We also need to review our prevention and intervention programming, and our behavioral assessment practices.  We need to make every effort to put into place recognized safety and preventive practices so we can quiet the voice of fear and eliminate that small nagging worry that perhaps we haven’t look quite closely enough at all of our practices. 

If you need assistance with your safety improvement efforts, read this.