head of school'S Blog
Dealing with Confidential Matters
In my thirty-one plus years in education, I have dealt with many different types of discipline issues including those which involve inappropriate student behavior. In every one of those cases, the administration is tasked with resolving the conflicts, administering the consequences to the parties involved, and ultimately, bringing restoration. One of the most challenging aspects of handling these conflicts is maintaining confidentiality. Let me try to explain why that seemingly simple task can be so difficult.
When a student or students get into trouble, the school administration has the responsibility to discipline them. Discipline is very nuanced as it takes into account many elements which may include prior conduct issues, the well-being of the student, the safety of the community, etc. There is much to consider, and often many individuals to consult, before deciding on the appropriate discipline for each student involved. Unfortunately, parents, students and teachers with limited information may begin to talk about the situation with each other and make their own judgments. By definition, this is gossip, and it often harms a person’s character as well as damages the school community.
Wanting to know more information is a normal response. People are eager to find out details for a variety of reasons. Christians may ask for information “to know how to pray for someone.” But Scripture makes it clear in that God knows what we need and can intercede for us when we do not know how to pray.
Often teachers and parents want the administration to use these situations as a learning tool, asking for the school to send a general email stating what happened and how the school responded. However, it is the legal responsibility of the school to follow a privacy law called FERPA, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA was written to give students and parents an assurance that only appropriate material is shared with individuals who need it.
A further complication comes from social media. Sometimes, students who are involved in a discipline situation post comments on social media that are not entirely true. They might be motivated to write these posts to “save face.” Other times, they are deliberately trying to change the narrative to hurt the school, another student, or staff member. In those cases, it becomes even more difficult to maintain confidentiality because, as administrators, we want to set the record straight. However, FERPA doesn’t give administrators that privilege.
In summary, schools must maintain the right to privacy and ensure that parents and students can come to them in confidence. Our responsibility is to help those who are hurting and not to satisfy the curiosity of those not involved. Ultimately, our job is to follow the federal law to protect the confidentiality rights of our students and families, and we believe that this is also how Christ would want us to handle these sensitive situations.
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