House Holds Hearing on Protecting Student Privacy
House Holds Hearing on Protecting Student Privacy

May 2018 

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, has been outspoken about her desire to update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the 1974 federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. On May 17 the

committee held a hearing on the topic of "Protecting Privacy, Promoting Data Security: Exploring How Schools and States Keep Data Safe." The hearing was well attended by committee members demonstrating a high level of continued interest in the issue.

Witnesses included David Couch, K-12 CIO and Associate Commissioner, Kentucky Office of Education Technology; Amelia Vance, Director of Education Privacy & Policy Counsel, Future of Privacy Forum; Catherine Lhamon, Attorney and Former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education; and Gary Lilly, Superintendent, Bristol, Tennessee, City Schools.

Witnesses discussed practices, methods, and state laws in place to protect student data privacy and seemed to agree that addressing technology would be an important update to FERPA, which was originally written with paper files in mind. One theme from the testimony and responses was the importance of investing in the training of educators and administrators who have access to the data. Speakers described the value of data to schools and encourage the committee to maintain district flexibility.

In addition, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member of the committee, and other Democrats criticized the administration and the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who they argued have aggressively undermined accountability and the civil rights of students. When asked about the connection between reliable student data and civil rights, Lhamon responded, “Data always drives equity.” These statements were made in recognition of the 64th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education.

Committee staff has reported that the committee continues to work in a bipartisan manner to advance the legislation.