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.