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Lawmaker: Establish state penalties for schools’ privacy violations

An Arizona lawmaker wants to create state-level penalties for schools that violate a federal law prohibiting them from releasing students’ private information to non-educational entities.

“When we’re going outside the scope of education and giving this type of private information to anybody, it’s really a problem,” said Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix.

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act already prohibits schools from disclosing student records without consent. Exceptions to that rule include schools releasing “directory information” such as students’ names, phone numbers and addresses unless a parent or student signs a non-disclosure form.

Penalties for violating the law can include a school, district or charter losing all of its federal funding.

Under SB 1450, knowingly committing a FERPA violation would cost up to 10 percent of an entity’s monthly state funding disbursement. The cuts would remain in place until the violation is corrected.

The bill won unanimous approval from the Senate. The House Education Committee endorsed it Monday, March 18, on a 6-3 party-line vote.

Yee said the bill followed two years of research into FERPA violations at Arizona schools. She told the committee she heard of a few violations, including one instance of school officials giving a mobile dentistry provider students’ medical insurance information. The company used the information to contact parents and get approval to complete dental work on children, she said.

“These are personalized sheets of information with your home information and your student identifier numbers and they should not be leaving the school campus – but they are,” she said.

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