The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other federal statutes have implications for information-sharing in the emergency planning process. There are limited circumstances in which the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may apply to impact information-sharing in the school setting.
While it is critical that schools comply with these laws, there is often confusion about their applicability, which results in schools sharing less than allowed with law enforcement officers or the appropriate authorities even when there is appropriate cause for sharing information. If schools understand when and how these laws apply, they can both ensure public safety and protect student privacy.
There may be federal and state civil rights and other laws that place restrictions on when and with whom schools may share information. At the federal level, for instance, public elementary and secondary schools are subject to federal civil rights laws, including laws that prohibit discrimination based on disability (the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA]), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973); race, color, and national origin (Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964); sex (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964); and religion (Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). For example, Section 504 and Title II of the ADA1 prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, and generally would prohibit unnecessary disclosures of disability status or information related to that disability, to third parties.2 Disclosures may be necessary when the student presents a significant, articulable threat to others.3
Take the time to review these laws, as well as others that apply in your jurisdictions, when working with community partners to ensure that all parties have a strong understanding of applicable laws when deciding whether to disclose information. In particular, it is critical to train school employees, including contractors, on applicable laws to ensure that schools, school officials, or employees do not release information inappropriately or make decisions about students or release of records based upon myths, fears, or stereotypes related to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.4