How to keep strangers from getting your child's personal information

HOUSTON – With all the papers and forms your child is bringing home this week, it's easy to just sign your name without actually reading all of the fine print. However, if you're concerned about protecting your child's personal information, there is one form you want to make sure you read and sign.

The document is about student directory information. Unless you sign it telling your child's school not to release their information, the data is up for grabs to anyone who asks for it.

Student directory information is defined by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as "information contained in the education records of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed."

Here's a list of information that is included in that definition: student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, dates of attendance, photographs, weight and height, major field of study, degrees, honors and awards received, grade level and most recent school attended.

In 2010, KPRC2 requested and received a list of student directory information for every first-grader enrolled in the Houston Independent School District. We received the names, addresses, dates of birth and telephone numbers for 12,141 first-graders.

FERPA also requires every school district to notify parents of their right to opt out and not allow the release of their child's information to certain or all third parties. 

In Houston ISD, there is an opt-out form included in every student’s registration packet.  It’s also available online at houstonisd.org. Click on the link for "Privacy Code."

Cy-Fair ISD’s policy regarding the “Release of Student Directory Information, Video /Photos, Works and Audio/Video Recording” can be found in the Student Handbook on pages 24-26.

Parents receive notification on how to opt out via the Student Handbook (p. 25) and again when they receive the forms (referenced in the policy) at the beginning of each school year:

“If parents do not want to have their students’ Directory Information released to one or both of the categories of the requestors, then the parents must indicate this preference on the 'Student Demographic Information' form (for new students) or on the 'Emergency Information and Medical/Parent Authorization' form (for existing students). This will limit or completely prohibit release of 'Directory Information' to the respective requestors.”

Fort Bend ISD's opt-out regarding directory information is part of the online verification process that all parents complete at the beginning of each year. This verification is done in Skyward Family Access. Paper forms are sent if a parent doesn’t complete the information online within the first month of the school year.

On its website, Katy ISD explains its policy to parents this way:

"Many parents are under the misunderstanding that Katy ISD is required to keep all information about their students private. This is NOT the case; in fact the opposite is true: Katy ISD, as a governmental body, MUST disclose information to any member of the public who asks for it under the Texas Public Information Act."

Katy ISD lets parents opt out of allowing anyone to receive information about their child or restrict the information only to being used for school publications like yearbooks and newsletters.

Remember, this is an opt-out system. Unless you sign the form telling the district not to release the information, you have no control over who gets it and for what reason.

If you do not see your child's school district on this list and you do not recall getting an opt-out form, ask the school's front office where you can get the form.