Privacy Laws Restrict Admin Reports on Student Discipline

Where students see lack of transparency, administration must protect privacy, leading to misunderstanding within the student body

IZZY PAGGIOLI

“We need your help.”

On behalf of the ELHS administration, Assistant Principal Henry Kydd is urging students to help faculty with the choices and behaviors that students show in the outside community.

Mr. Kydd has the perspective of an administrator, while English teacher Alexa Kydd has a classroom perspective. Ms. Kydd said she’s gained a more nuanced perspective on the complexities of administration since her husband transitioned from teaching.

“A big part of the protest was to draw attention to the disappointment of what kids perceived as leadership not being loud enough or strong enough in their condemnation of racism in the school community,” Ms. Kydd said.

Students walk out to advocate for action against racism from admin.

Junior Tolby Regan participated in the walkout after hearing of the discrimination her friends have faced as people of color. “I don’t want to go to a school where racial incidents are not punished. I wanted to stand with my friends and support making a community for everyone,” Regan said.

After the walkout, Regan feels that everyone is more aware of the problems at ELHS and hopes the administration will enforce punishments to those who have committed racist acts.

“I want the administration to follow through on their zero tolerance policy. They should address and talk to people who have said racist things; they should enforce punishment for it,” said Regan.

While this is a valid and common complaint, sometimes appearance isn’t always reality.

Legally, The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) restricts the privacy of student education records, directly. While students want to see clear consequences for wrongdoings, administration must legally protect the privacy of all students. Consequences are not public and follow personal privacy laws.

Ms. Kydd has heard misunderstandings similar to Regan’s where students assume administration is not acting upon incidents, within the school because they simply are not told about the solutions. She feels students in the community tend to blame the administration for not addressing nor fixing the problem.

“We can’t let our protests get into generalizations. When it turns into an inaccurate, general accusation, we’re never going to get anywhere because it’s not true,” said Ms. Kydd.

The ELHS zero tolerance policy results in students receiving a suspension, which could lead to an expulsion for any activity that threatens the “health, safety, or welfare of school property, individuals thereon, or the educational process,” according to the student handbook.

Superintendent of East Lyme Schools Jeff Newton says that students don’t see the restorative work that goes on behind the scenes due to privacy restrictions.

“They can’t always share everything they’re doing to work with students on repairing and restoring the way they think and how they treat people. It’s against the law. They can’t tell you guys what they are doing all the time. It’s hard. What seems like inaction might just be protection because of privacy acts and things like that,” said Ms. Kydd.

To improve the problem, Mr. Newton believes in the concept of restorative justice which entails coming together, and talking through the issue, rather than solely resorting to punishment.

“If we ever suspend or expel [the perpetrator], how are they ever going to learn?” Mr. Newton said.

Mr. Newton values working on a new curriculum in younger grades regarding racism to be a work in progress as the curriculum begins to change and shift. Mr. Newton doesn’t have the authority to change policies, but can bring recommendations to the Board of Education.

“We need to work with our youngest students on showing them and having them learn right from wrong when it comes to racism. We have to continue to engage in conversations and bring kids and conversations to the forefront to talk about issues of this nature,” Mr. Newton said.

The district-wide Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) committees have been meeting monthly to help address and decrease the racial incidents in our community.

“As of late, the district has acknowledged that we have work to do. A lot of those professional development sessions have revolved around how we, as educators, provide classrooms, instructions, and curriculum that are more inclusive, more equitable, and more representative of our population,” Ms. Kydd said.

Leave a Reply