COVID-19 Legal FAQ Update – Virtual Parent-Teacher Conferences

Memorandum

From:  CEA Legal Center

Date:  June 24, 2020

RE:  COVID-19 Legal FAQ Update – Virtual Parent-Teacher Conferences


This memorandum serves as a guidance to frequently asked questions presented to the CEA Legal team regarding how to respond to the unprecedented epidemic sweeping our nation. The FAQ’s will be updated as we address questions from the field. Please be patient and understand that these circumstances present new and uncharted areas of law. CEA Legal will provide the best advice it can based on its understanding of current law however, the law is unclear in many areas.

Question: How should educators prepare for virtual parent-teacher conferences?

Answer: Many concerns that have arisen regarding virtual distance learning, translate over to the setting of a virtual parent-teacher conferences. Among these issues are the applicability of FERPA in this setting, permissibility of recording conferences, and logistics to ensure equal access to parents who seek to participate in the conferences.

Legal Issues:

  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) is a federal law that protects the privacy of personally identifiable information (PII) in students’ education records. Ordinarily, PII, such as grades or behavioral records, are the subject of parent-teacher conferences. As such, educators should take precautions to ensure that only authorized parents/legal guardians participate in conferences to prevent unlawful dissemination of student “education records.” Asking questions at the start of the conference such as: “Do you have privacy for this conversation?” or “Is anyone else listening to this conversation?” are some suggested ways to ensure student privacy.
  • If someone other than the designated parent/legal guardian will be attending a parent-teacher conference in the parents’ absence, FERPA requires that the parent or eligible student “provide a signed and dated written consent” before a district discloses PII from a student’s education record, unless certain exceptions apply. Consent may be given by electronic signature, and is valid if it: (1) specifies the education record that may be disclosed, (2) states the purpose of the disclosure; and (3) identifies the part to who the disclosure may be made.
    This consent can be tailored to the material to be covered in a parent-teacher conference.
  • It is possible that parents/guardians may record parent-teacher conferences, with or without your knowledge. Your school district may not be able to prevent individuals recording or from sharing this information beyond its intended audience. At the same time, school districts can and should support educators’ legitimate privacy concerns by adopting policies prohibiting unauthorized recording and/or dissemination of videos captured in the course of distance learning or parent-teacher conferences. Consult with your district if they have such a policy, and if not, you can work with your local association to propose that the district adopt and follow one.

Access Issues:

  • Not all families have access to reliable internet, educators should offer video conferencing/zoom conferences but also telephone conferences. In advance, send relevant material you might want to refer to during the conference electronically. Teachers should work with families to schedule conferences during a time that is mutually convenient for both to attend.
  • Teachers should keep a log of all calls made to parents including, date, time and parent whom they held conferences with.
  • Keep in mind that families may need to use translation or interpretation services during virtual parent-teacher conferences. Be familiar with resources to accomplish this potential logistic.

CEA encourages educators to become familiar with their districts’ policies governing technology use, and to contact their supervisor, local association president, or UniServ Directors with questions.