This question is prompted by a similar question on academia.StackExchange: Is a professor allowed to ask me what grade I got in a previous class?
This is in the U.S.
Obviously, FERPA was brought up. Comments and explanations in answers talked about what it means to have a "legitimate educational interest" in a student's grades. This question posed to law.StackExchange is about what constitutes "legitimate educational interest"?
Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record. However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31):
- School officials with legitimate educational interest;
The majority opinion on Academia seems to be that a teacher wanting to know their student's pervious grades in a different class - a class which was a prerequisite for the current class - is a legitimate educational interest. The only reason provided as for why is that the teacher can use it to deny access to the class to some students or to adjust the class speed and/or content to better accommodate the students' level of understanding.
I suggested that teachers can get this information in other, better ways, and have no true need or interest in previous grades. For example, when I want to get a feel for the level of the class up front, I have given an anonymous quiz on the first day of class. Since it's anonymous, it is obviously not graded. Others still insist that teachers in this situation have a legitimate educational interest in the student grades.
One person went so far as to suggest that FERPA only denies the teacher in cases of idle curiosity. That seems wholly ineffective to me at that point, as any teacher could always get out of a reprimand by claiming "I heard this student was concerned about their standing and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help." You cannot easily prove that a teacher had only idle curiosity.
So the question is, in a nutshell: Legally, what has FERPA's "legitimate educational interest" been interpreted as meaning, strictly? If this has ever been tested in court for any grey areas like this (ie: not cases of negligence or idle curiosity), that would be great.
My personal interest in this is to get a better idea of when FERPA denies access to student records and when it does not. I am concerned, as the interpretation of some people of "legitimate educational interest" makes me wonder if FERPA does not really protect our privacy in practice, since negligence and idle curiosity should already have been grounds for workplace discipline for school officials in any competent school.