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Education Celebrations: What's right for children means protecting their privacy, too

By By Diane Boyett
Feb. 23, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 23, 2014 at 8:24 p.m.


Once upon a time, I was on the other side of what we used to call the "generation gap." At that time, I vowed that when I got to the "other generation," I would not fall victim to generation thinking.

Now that I have arrived in that group called the "older generation" (note I said older, not old), I find that my thinking has changed. When I think of kids today, I try not to make generalizations. However, there is one generalization that I do find myself thinking quite frequently, and that is, "Where did childhood go?"

Sometimes, I look at our students today and wonder where their childhoods have gone. For many, the family and societal structure has radically changed over the years. Students today have more opportunities for the future than perhaps any previous generation.

But those same opportunities carry great challenges, and sometimes, those challenges are more than the developing adolescent brain can process. The body and brain is that of a child, but sometimes, the expectations and the actions are anything but childlike.

Almost 30 years ago, a new acronym entered the jargon of educators - FERPA - which stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This is a federal law that protects the privacy of children and their families.

Even though it has been amended nine times over the years, the bottom line is that the amount and kind of information a school district can release in any given situation is very limited.

Since 1974, school districts have walked a very fine line between the rights of a child to privacy and satisfying the public's desire to know.

Recently, we have seen media reports of incidents in which the school district could offer no comment other than the incident is being investigated and consequences will be assigned in full accordance with state and federal laws and the VISD Student Code of Conduct.

We take criticism for limiting those comments. We understand the frustration that some people feel when they want to know details of something that happened and what the consequences will be. But there are strict legal requirements, and we will comply with the law.

The same law that protects a student who does something wrong also protects the thousands of other students in our schools who never have a disciplinary infraction. It protects the child with a failing grade. It protects the child who has special needs.

It protects the child living in a shelter because of an abusive situation. It protects the child who is living with a guardian instead of a parent. It protects information on where a child lives, if there are siblings and how much the family earns. And, yes, sometimes it protects the child who makes a very bad decision.

But it is more than the law that motivates us to protect children. It is a moral imperative as well. As a society, our greatest hope is the future. As a school district, we do impose consequences for actions. As a society, we have to give our children the opportunity to learn from bad choices or face other consequences. For a child, the loss of privacy is not one of those consequences.

Diane Boyett is the communications director for Victoria school district. Contact her at diane.boyett@visd.net.

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