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Lesson: Reading, Writing and Discussing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)


Reading, Writing and Discussing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)


Understanding the often erroneous application of FERPA, also known as the Buckley Amendment, to scholastic journalism


Students will revisit the Owasso v. Falvo case and work to answer the question of whether student publications may post names and grades of students on their websites. Students will then work toward the answer by reading read one of three articles addressing the commonly misunderstood FERPA law. While reading, students will read strategically and complete a study guide.

They then will discuss the article in small groups. These small groups will then report back to the class for the article they read educating the other half of the class on what they’ve read. When they finish, the other half of the class will teach about their article. When finished, students will then get into groups and work through a scenario involving FERPA law. Each group will present their scenario and what they decided to do. Students will be expected to quote from all articles during this informal presentation.


  • Students will read and make notes on articles about FERPA using common reading strategies.
  • Students will outline FERPA law basics.
  • Students will apply the knowledge using scenarios.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.


50 minutes


Article: Reporter’s Guide to FERPA

Article: FERPA: Nuts and Bolts


Handout: Article 1

Handout: Article 2 Handout

Handout: FERPA Scenarios

Press Rights Minute #9 – Understanding FERPA

Teacher keys: FERPA Scenarios Answer KeyArticle 1 Handout Answers, Article 2 Handout Answers

Supplemental text for further understanding if needed: ferpa_wp.pdf

Lesson step-by-step

1. Revisiting Owasso — 3 minutes

According to SPLC: The Owasso ruling clarifies FERPA and establishes “that students are not agents of schools.” The Court established verbally reporting quiz scores didn’t violate FERPA laws.

FERPA is meant to allow parents and students access to academic records like transcripts and those records to not be available to the general public. However, according to the SPLC’s FERPA Fact Sheet (as referenced in the extension at the end of the lesson), FERPA has been misapplied by administrators and boards. In some instances, these colleges and high schools have refused records on parking tickets, teacher disciplinary actions and even public meeting minutes.

Question for students: Can students of scholastic publications use student names and photos on their websites? Can journalists gain access to records — whether they are educational, academic or other — in schools and colleges? 

2. Scholastic Press Rights Minutes audio clip (introduction to the material) — 2 minutes

Prior to playing the clip and then ask students to note the purpose of FERPA, the problem of interpretation and what FERPA is intended to protect.

3. Read articles — 10 minutes

Split the class in two.

One half should receive Article 1 and its accompanying articles: “FERPA Nuts and Bolts” by Jodi Cleesattle and “FERPA Often Misconstrued” by Sonny Albarado. The other half of the class should receive Article 2 and its accompanying handout: “FERPA Fundamentalism: How a federal law designed to protect student privacy is being misinterpreted to injure press freedom” from the SPLC. (If you have any struggling readers, they should be assigned Article 1, “FERPA Nuts and Bolts,” only.)

Ask students to read quietly. They should circle any words or ideas with which they are unfamiliar. After the students read the article once, they should reread and do the following: either figure out the unknown words from context clues or look up the definitions; highlight main ideas of paragraphs; state the main idea for each paragraph and any question students have in the margin.

When students have finished marking the text, they should answer the questions using the worksheets provided.

4. Group debrief — 8 minutes

Students should discuss the main points of their article with the rest of the class. Focus the first four minutes on the first article, and then use the next four minutes for the second article.

5. Large group — 2 minutes:

Revisit the today’s opening question: Can students of scholastic publications use student names and photos on their websites? Can journalists gain access to records — whether they are educational, academic or other — in schools and colleges?

Students should use the readings to answer the question. The reading handouts should help.

6. Scenarios — 10 minutes

Break students into four equal groups with at least two people from each reading per group. Group members should talk through the scenario assigned to them and decide what they think should happen. Students should provide proof from the articles the read as much as possible.

7. Discussion — 15 minutes

Each group should read their scenario and discuss the points of the case. Teacher note: The cases are all taken from the FERPA fact sheet included in the lesson.

8. Comprehension check — 3 minutes

Use an exit ticket asking students to define what FERPA laws protect.

Additional resources:

SPLC keeps a log of recent FERPA requests, as used in this lesson. The link is at:

For more information concerning FERPA, please see the SPLC’s white paper, which is included and listed as supplemental information in this lesson packet.


Create questions about FERPA and interview a school administrator. Students could also (as a class or individually) do an open records request for some of the information worked through for this class session.