When can law enforcement unit officials serve as “school officials”?

In order for law enforcement unit officials to be considered school officials, they must meet the criteria for who constitutes a school official that are set forth in the school’s or LEA’s annual notification to parents and eligible students of their rights under FERPA.  See § 99.7(a)(3)(iii).  This notification must be distributed by a school or LEA every year through a forum that is likely to be viewed by parents and eligible students, such as a student handbook, school website, a direct letter to parents, or a combination of methods, and must inform parents and eligible students of their rights under FERPA.  (Please see http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/lea-officials.html for a model notification.)  Schools must also determine that the school official’s interest in accessing the education records meets the criteria for legitimate educational interests, as set forth in the school or LEA’s annual notification of FERPA rights.  Under these notifications, school official typically would have a “legitimate educational interest” if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibility.

Having law enforcement unit officials who are “school officials” with a “legitimate educational interest” will permit the school to non-consensually disclose PII from students’ education records to its law enforcement unit officials so that they may perform their professional duties and assist with school safety matters.  For example, if a student is expelled from school and barred from campus, the principal could disclose the student’s disciplinary report to the law enforcement unit officials so that they would know that the student is not supposed to be on campus.  The information from education records that is provided to the school’s law enforcement unit officials remains subject to FERPA and may be further disclosed by that unit (e.g., to the local police department) only with consent or in accordance with the exceptions to the consent requirement at § 99.31.  Because the school’s law enforcement unit may not redisclose PII from students’ education records that it receives, except in compliance with FERPA, it is advisable for law enforcement units to maintain law enforcement unit records separately from education records.