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In the U.S., I understand that it is illegal for teachers to divulge a student's grades to anyone with no legitimate claim to the information.

Is it similarly illegal for parents to do that?

In some newspaper "advice" column, a high-school pupil wrote that her mother was using her grades to compete with the mother of some other pupil. The reasons why it is unethical for a teacher to do things like that seem obviously applicable to parents for the same reason. Might limited termination of parental rights be considered by the courts to be a reasonable remedy? Might there also be criminal liability?

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    Unethical != illegal - private individuals can generally (with some restrictions such as insider trading laws etc) do whatever they want with information they have, even when divulgence of that information is restricted for specific parties such as doctors, teachers, lawyers et al. – user4210 May 22 at 3:28
  • @Moo : I you think my posting suggests that I may have thought "unethical" entails, "illegal", then read it more closely. – Michael Hardy May 22 at 19:24
  • In your first paragraph you refer to it being illegal for teachers to do something, and then in your third paragraph you refer to it being unethical and in your opinion that would also apply to parents as well doing the same thing. It might indeed be unethical to do something, but that doesn't necessarily equate to it being illegal, which is the question you asked in your post title. – user4210 May 22 at 19:39
  • @Moo : I was attempting to say that the reasons why it ought to be forbidden are the same. – Michael Hardy May 22 at 20:01
  • I know, and I'm pointing out that "unethical" != "forbidden". There are plenty of unethical acts which are not illegal - ethics and legality are very very separate concerns. – user4210 May 22 at 20:04
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The law involved is the US Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which is described at this Department of Education page. FERPA applies to schools and other educational institutions that receive certain Federal funds. It does not apply to other organizations, unless such organizations receive educational information under a contract that restricts its use. Such contracts are required for some kinds of disclosures by FERPA, but not for other kinds. FERPA does not apply to parents.

I suppose that such a disclosure might be a tort of invasion of privacy (disclosure of private facts) in those jurisdictions that recognize that tort, but to prevail in such a suit, a plaintiff would need to show that disclosure was highly offensive to a reasonable person. Moreover, many US states do not recognize a private facts tort.

  • To me it seems as if the easiest part would be to show that this is highly offensive to a reasonable person, since that seems obvious. – Michael Hardy May 22 at 3:51
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    @Michael Hardy The standard for "highly offensive" is generally, well, a high one. Lots of things many people would object to courts will not accept as meeting that standard. But exact rules vary by state within the US. I don't know of a case closely on point for this issue. There can also be First Amendment issues to be balanced in such cases. – David Siegel May 22 at 3:54
  • Note that the fact that the student is in high school and presumably under 18, so FERPA rights are with the parents, not the student. FERPA rights only transfer to the student when he turns 18 or enrolls in college. This is an important fact. – user71659 May 22 at 18:16
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    @user71659 true. But even once the student is 18 (as many high-school seniors are) FERPA does not restrict what a parent can say to others about the student, because the parent is not an educational institution. – David Siegel May 22 at 18:21
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    @MichaelHardy Any such law would, and IMO should be tossed out as unconstitutional. A direct regulation of pure speech requires a compelling governmental interest and a narrowly tailored law. But my point about the high bar is that whatever you or I might think proper, courts are quite reluctant to find tort liability in private facts cases except when the conduct was really egregious. And many states don't recognize such a tort, ever. – David Siegel May 22 at 20:48

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