Student Privacy Case Law

Students do not shed all of their rights at the schoolhouse gate, including the right to privacy. Below is a sample of case law relevant to student privacy.

  • Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 122 S. Ct. 2268 (2002). In Gonzaga, the Supreme Court held that a student could not privately enforce rights conferred under FERPA by bringing a § 1983 civil rights action against a private university because the Act's nondisclosure provisions did not create any enforceable rights.
  • Owasso Indep. Sch. Dist. No. I-011 v. Falvo, 534 U.S. 426 (2002). In Owasso, the Supreme Court determined that grades on peer-graded papers do not qualify as education records, and thus are not protected by FERPA.
  • In Board of Ed. of Independent School Dist. No. 92 of Pottawatomie Cty. v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822, (2002), the Court ruled that students who voluntarily participate in extracurricular activities have a limited expectation of privacy because they voluntarily subject themselves to intrusions on their privacy, such as "occasional off-campus travel and communal undress." Furthermore, the Court found that requiring students to submit urine samples (by urinating in a bathroom stall while the teacher stood outside the stall listening "for the normal sounds of urination in order to guard against tampered specimens and to insure an accurate chain of custody") was "minimally intrusive" and a "not significant" invasion of students' privacy. In a concurring opinion, Justice Breyer compared student drug testing to other responsibilities that schools must bear, such as providing school lunches. Schools "prepare pupils for citizenship in the Republic [and] inculcate the habits and manners of civility as values in themselves conductive to happiness and as indispensable to the practice of self-government in the community and the nation," Breyer said.
  • United States v. Miami Univ., 294 F. 3d 797 (6th Cir. 2002). In Miami, the Sixth Circuit held that a newspaper does not have unrestricted access to unredacted student disciplinary records because such records are "education records" within the meaning of FERPA.
  • Jensen v. Reeves, 3 Fed. Appx. 905 (10th Cir. 2001). In Jensen, the Tenth Circuit determined that limited disclosure to interested parties about a child's misbehavior in school is legitimate under FERPA.
  • Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995). Upheld the random, suspicionless drug testing of student athletes. The Court said that athletes had a diminished expectation of privacy in relation to other students, noting that athletes were required to undergo physical exams before being allowed to join a team and undress and shower in communal locker rooms.
  • Bauer v. Kincaid, 759 F. Supp 575 (WD Mo. 1991). In Bauer, a district court held that a public university student newspaper may obtain and publish criminal investigation and incident reports prepared by a campus security department because such documents are not "education records" under FERPA.
  • Red and Black Publ'g Co. v. Bd. of Regents, 427 S.E.2d 257 (Ga. 1993). In a suit filed by the University of Georgia's student newspaper after it was denied access to campus court records and proceedings about hazing charges against two fraternities, the Georgia Supreme Court held that student court records were subject to the state open-records law and that disciplinary proceedings were subject to the state open-meetings statute.
  • In New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985), the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials, who are not exempt from the Amendment's dictates by virtue of the special nature of their authority over schoolchildren. However, the Court said that school officials do not have to obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority if the officials have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated the law or the rules of the school. The court held that searches of students' belongings are permissible if the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the student's age and sex and the nature of the infraction.
  • Planned Parenthood of Cent. Mo. V. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976). If a student confides in school personnel about pregnancy or birth control issues, case law establishing minors' reproductive rights probably limits schools' ability to disclose this information to the student's parents without his or her consent.

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