The professors are providing you with the following suggestions and guidelines as you are implementing your action research plan.
• Student confidentiality is important, even if they can’t sue you.
The Supreme Court (U.S., not just Texas) has decided that parents do not have the right to bring a private suit against a school district and/or its employees for violating FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). Does that mean it’s OK to engage in casual conversations about students in the faculty lounge? ABSOLUTELY NOT! First, it’s just not the right thing to do. Second, it’s still prohibited by federal law and a school district could lose federal funds. Finally, if school employees become too comfortable with a “they can’t sue me” attitude, it’s virtually guaranteed that Congress will amend the statute to allow for private suits. So be very careful to protect student privacy and confidentiality of records.
• While we’re talking about student confidentiality . . .
School district employees should be regularly reminded of their obligations to protect student confidentiality. This applies to all situations, and if you are going to conduct a research project involving individual students or wishing to survey parents, be sure to refer to district policies and procedures for conducting research (this information should be available from your online District Policies and Procedures Handbook).
And in general remember this leadership advice, only employees that have a “need to know” are entitled to specific information about kids. Parents are entitled to all (with a couple of narrow exceptions) information about their children, but are not entitled to ANY information about other folks’ children. We may not discuss any disciplinary action about a child with any parent other than his/hers. While this may be hard for parents to comprehend and accept (e.g., the dad whose kid came out on the losing side of the fight), it is federal law and we must stick to our guns (pardon the pun)!
• Hippo, Hippie, HIPAA – which one is it & why do we care?
We provide this information to guide you on privacy issues concerning colleagues and/or students that may participate in your research project. HIPAA is an acronym (just what educators need-another acronym) for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It is a federal law that includes a “Privacy Rule” which often applies to school districts. If a school district is a “covered entity” under HIPAA, then it must comply with the rules concerning use and disclosure of “protected health information.” School districts generally will be covered entities and subject to HIPAA privacy rules in two circumstances: (1) if the district provides health insurance for its employees through a self-insured plan, and (2) if the district participates in the Medicaid program known as SHARS (another acronym-School Health and Related Services) and the SHARS billing information is transmitted electronically.
There are some helpful exceptions to the HIPAA rules. Most importantly for school districts, health information that is considered an education record under FERPA (yikes-another acronym) is excluded from the HIPAA privacy requirements. However, health information that is not covered by FERPA (e.g., oral communications about student health issues) must be protected under HIPAA. There also are exceptions for information held by a district in its capacity as an employer (rather than an insurer), such as medical leave certifications, and for disclosure of workers’ compensation records to a district as an employer. In general, do not make statements or declarations in your research regarding an individual’s mental or physical health. On the other hand, it is certainly appropriate to report aggregate data (e.g., 95 students at Hood Elementary have been identified as students with learning disabilities; or 25 students have been identified as dyslexic).
Remember, the faculty assigned to your section will be available to assist you with some of the policy and procedure issues, and please ask for guidance. If you cannot reach the assigned faculty, feel free to contact any of the professors listed below since we are all familiar with the action research course and internship.
Wishing you the very best!
Dr. Steve Jenkins, Dr. Elvis Arterbury, Dr. Gary Martin, Dr. Kay Abernathy, Dr. Lu Stephens, Cindy Cummings, and other faculty who will be working with this follow-up initiative