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There are many types of confidentiality in schools, and schools usually give some indication of what policies they enforce. These may vary regionally, and it’s easier to discuss the broad-based types of issues that schools address with confidentiality guidelines. Some disclosures can’t remain private, such as a statements about having been hurt by someone (physically or sexually) or statements about a third party involved in this scenario. In other cases, schools set policies to address the right to privacy of individual students and their families, the expectations of confidentiality associated with individual student performance reviews or extra needs of any student, and privacy rules that might exist when students have communications with health care workers or school counselors.
Respect of privacy rights like the right to maintain private contact information is a basic type of confidentiality in schools. Generally, schools can’t release contact information to any other sources without permission of the parents. There are a few gray areas, and sometimes private or other agencies can contact children or their families without parental permission.
Another type of confidentiality in schools relates to individual student performance. This is a challenging issue all the way through college. In the past, students often knew how their peers performed scholastically because graded papers could be posted on walls or teachers might leave a stack of final exams outside the door for students to pick up.
This behavior is now frowned upon, and teachers may find ways to display student material so that the grades remain confidential. The delivery of final grades is also more private since it’s recognized that many people aren’t interested in sharing their grades. Students who need to provide proof of grades, such as with transcripts, often have to sign a release statement.
Schools can be involved in the physical or mental health care of their students, and confidentially in schools must address these issues too. Any routine physical testing, like eye exams or checks for scoliosis usually comes with a guarantee to the student and family that this information won’t be shared. Health information a school might hold about a student is private as well.
Mental health care tends to follow confidentiality rules similar to those adopted in private settings, but not always. School counselors may be able to fully extend confidentiality in schools, except in the instances where they feel a child might be at risk or a risk to self or others. Alternately, school counselors occasionally assess children for ongoing reports, in which case the child’s privacy is significantly reduced. Even the youngest children should understand their expectation of privacy when receiving school counseling.
If people are unsure about confidentiality in schools, it’s best to read the policies of a school. Most of these policies protect students, but some also protect the school above the interest of students. A healthy balance between sharing information and keeping it private is needed, particularly since schools have an ongoing obligation to assess and protect students. On the other hand, if parents feel that a child’s privacy is abridged too much by policy, they may be able to request greater protective measures.
Most schools have pretty tight confidentiality. If it's a high school and the student is 18, then some of those rules no longer apply, or the student, as a legal adult, has the right to waive the rules, but usually, schools are not allowed to release information without a parent's consent.
If a student commits a crime, under the law, neither the school nor the media can release the student's name, since s/he is a juvenile. However, if the district attorney decides to try the student as an adult, this confidentiality is no longer in play, and the student's name can be released to the media.
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