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Random Notes on NJ Government

New Jersey Appeals Court: FERPA allows police to get a student’s parent’s identifying information from school records without a warrant or parental consent.

Police asked a woman for the name of her children’s father who police suspected was a burglar.  The woman refused to divulge father’s identity but detectives, during questioning, noticed a young child in the woman’s household.  Detectives then canvassed local schools and a school principal, who knew the child and the mother, consulted school records and gave detectives the father’s identity.  Police, who arrested the father shortly thereafter, had neither a warrant nor either parent’s consent to obtain the father’s identity from the school’s records.

The father moved to suppress, arguing that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his personally identifiable information contained in his child’s records based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the New Jersey Pupil Records Act (NJPRA).  The trial court disagreed and in today’s unpublished decision in State v. J.S.G., Docket No. A-4665-14T4, a three-judge Appellate Division panel affirmed. 

First, the panel held that the father’s name was not “directory information” (which is excluded from FERPA’s protections) and held that parental consent was required before the disclosure of father’s name under FERPA.  The panel, however, held that FERPA is merely a funding statute with no mechanism to enforce an improper disclosure.  Since a person has no enforceable rights under FERPA, the panel reasoned that “it logically follows that a person would also have no enforceable Fourth Amendment right for a school’s improper disclosure of the name of a student’s parent contained school records.”

Under the NJPRA, the panel found that the father’s identity was similar enough to the type of information contained within the school’s “student information directory.” “We conclude that the NJPRA does not create an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in student records recognized by the Fourth Amendment or Article 1, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. Accordingly, defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his children’s school records, including the paternity information contained therein, and was not entitled to suppression of his name,” the panel wrote.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project