If you have any questions regarding the use of video surveillance in schools, contact one of our attorneys at (203) 221-3100.

Requesting Video Surveillance Under FERPA

With video surveillance systems now standard in school districts across the country, there has been a notable increase in parental requests to access such footage, particularly concerning disciplinary issues, bullying claims, or allegations of misconduct. These requests are regulated by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), which outlines privacy safeguards and parental rights to access students’ educational records. On April 19, 2018, the Family Policy Compliance Office (“FPCO”), part of the US Department of Education’s Office of the Chief Privacy Officer, issued guidance titled “FAQs on Photos and Videos under FERPA.” This recent guidance aims to clarify for school officials when photos or videos of students qualify as educational records under FERPA and who is authorized to view such visual recordings.

Generally, FERPA mandates that parents have the right to inspect and review their child’s educational records—defined as records, files, documents, and other materials containing information directly related to a student and maintained by an educational agency or institution (see generally 20 U.S.C. §1232g(a)(4)(A); 34 C.F.R. §§ 99.10-99.12). If a video or photo meets these criteria, it may qualify as an educational record under FERPA.

Images Directly vs. Not Directly Related to the Student

Regarding videos and photos, the guidance offers a set of criteria to clarify when such images are considered “directly related” to a student. According to the guidance, videos or photos are typically directly related to a specific student when they are used for disciplinary actions or official purposes, depict an activity (such as a student(s) violating a law or school policy, or being injured or attacked), or when the entity capturing the image intends to focus on the student(s) (for instance, in an ID photo or during a student presentation). Based on these criteria, a video or photo image may serve as an educational record for multiple students simultaneously (for example, if a surveillance video captures two students fighting on a school bus, and the school uses the video to discipline both students).

Conversely, the guidance points out that images are not directly related to students who incidentally appear in the background of a photo or video, such as a student in the background of a video recording a fight between two other students. If an image is not directly related to a student, it does not qualify as that student’s educational record. The guidance emphasizes that this determination should be made case by case, following a thorough review of the relevant video or photo content.

Accessing Surveillance Photos and Videos

The guidance addresses a critical concern for school officials: determining who has the right to access video or photo images classified as education records. This issue often arises when a video captures an incident involving two students, prompting requests from one or both sets of parents to view the footage. FPCO clarified that when a video or photo constitutes an education record of a student, the parent of the student directly involved in the footage may request to inspect and review it.

Moreover, FPCO underscored that the same principle applies if the video or photo pertains to multiple students—the school must allow the parent to review the relevant portion related to their child. The guidance advises schools to redact sections involving other students if redaction can be done without altering the record’s substance. It cautioned that while FERPA grants parental rights to access and inspect their children’s education records, it generally does not include the right to obtain copies of these records.

Additionally, the guidance provides clarity on a school district’s authority to disclose video or photo education records to law enforcement, outlining when such materials qualify as law enforcement records under FERPA and the implications of this distinction.

Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

Our firm in Westport, Connecticut serves clients with legal assistance all over the state, including the towns of Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge. In addition to assisting clients in Connecticut, our firm handles education law matters in New York as well.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to an attorney about a legal matter, please contact Joseph C. Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or JMaya@Mayalaw.com to schedule a free initial consultation today.