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FERPA Laws, a Barrier to Threat Assessment

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) controls the accessibility of students’ academic and personal information to various parties. However, the sharing of student information under this act is strictly controlled by its regulations (FERPA, 2021). Several studies have established that some violent incidents, such as school shootings, may be prevented if law enforcers are timely informed about suspicious student behaviors. This hypothesis applies primarily to the incidents where perpetrators of violence are current or former associates of the affected institutions. It also applies to incidents executed by individuals known to certain members of the affected schools. Based on the findings of these studies, information sharing becomes an essential; aspect of threat assessment. It helps law enforcers and the vulnerable schools to identify the control or prevent threats before they occur. A critical review of the FERPA statute portrays it as a significant barrier to practical threat assessment in institution-based violence.

Information sharing remains the most effective way of identifying the potential threat perpetrators for timely mitigation. Even though each vulnerable institution has an effective emergency response plan (ERP) for addressing incidents such as school shootings, it is inadequate to prevent adverse consequences. Most school shootings are so unexpected that no ERP can help the affected institutions to prevent casualties. A study by the United States Secret Service and the Department of Education on 37 previous school shootings identifies information disclosure as the most effective preventative measure for such incidents.

Firstly, the study established that all the shooters disclosed their heinous plans to the targeted institutions’ students before striking. They also remained calm, not showing any signs of danger to other students (Cawood & Corcoran, 2019). Since no threats were apparent to the perpetrators, teachers and law enforcers could not detect any forthcoming threats. However, these institutions established that other members of the affected institutions already knew the perpetrators’ plans before they occurred. This information would be a vital threat assessment resource if shared with the relevant authorities. The strict FERPA rules prohibiting the sharing of student information hinder effective threat assessment despite the predictability of most school shooters.

Secondly, the Secret Service and the Department of Education established, through research, that all school shootings were impulsive and unexpected. Additionally, most culprits communicated a need for help or exhibited behavior that worried others prior to the attacks (Cawood & Corcoran, 2019). According to Peddada (2013), risk identification is the most vital part of threat assessment in any situation. This argument stems from the assumption that unidentified threats cannot be mitigated. It also enables organizations to analyze risks and decide whether to evaluate particular risks at inherent or residual levels (Peddada, 2013). The findings by the Secret Service and the Department of Education may not be helpful to vulnerable institutions whose data disclosure activities are regulated by FERPA laws. Conventionally, students seeking help and showing abnormal behaviors or attitudes should be assessed to determine if they pose a danger to themselves and others. However, such a process requires sharing information on their behaviors with school administrations and the police.

FERPA’s main benefits stem from its determination to protect student’s personal and academic information. Even though this function is intended to protect the student’s confidentiality, it prevents organizations from exploiting helpful information to protect themselves from imminent dangers. Even though the act permits partial information sharing, its rigidity hinders contrastive information sharing. For instance, the law requires institutions to seek students’ permission before disclosing personally-identifying data (FERPA, 2018). It also restricts the accessibility of personal information to educational agencies funded by any programs under the United States Department of Education. Thus, FERPA regulations pose a significant barrier to a threat assessment by blocking the disclosure of information shared by potential violence perpetrators.

Fourthly, the study on the past 37 shootings revealed that most culprits previously lamented victimizations through bullying and other aggressive attacks. They also had histories of access to deadly weapons before engaging in school shootings (Cawood & Corcoran, 2019). Dangerousness analysis is an ERP aspect that facilitates threat management through profiling. It enables susceptible institutions to profile their students based on their potential to participate in violent activities. Bullying and aggressive attacks are predisposing factors because they drive victims into experiencing vengeful thoughts. Therefore, constantly victimized students possess a high degree of rage, making them potential threats to others. Additionally, prior exposure to deadly weapons is a security threat because it enables vengeful students to transform their rage into physical violence. FERPA emphasizes the confidentiality of personal information unless the students and their guardians authorize any disclosure. This regulation implies that most institutions will not avail personally identifying information for practical threat analysis. They continue to keep this data a secret until unwanted incidents unfold. Therefore, FERPA restrictions are responsible for poor dangerousness assessment in violence-prone learning institutions.

Finally, the United States Secret Service and the Department of Education established, through research, that most school shootings were stopped by means other than law enforcement. This discovery clearly indicates the lack of awareness of potential threats in such institutions. It implies that no interventions were planned before the attacks, and the affected institutions’ ERPs were mainly defensive. Prior disclosure of potential dangers allows law enforcers to plan ahead of an incident and implement adequate preventative measures. Such an ERP also facilitates rapid response to any forms of violence, minimizing the damages caused. However, FERPA regulations prohibit the dissemination of students’ personally-identifying information to any agencies other than the educational agencies funded by the United States Department of Education. Such agencies are also forbidden from sharing such information with other organizations. Therefore, any information linking shooting perpetrators with future attacks remains unavailable to the police. Consequently, learning institutions are compelled to rely on ineffective alternatives to the police to address unexpected school shootings.

The FERPA Act was established to protect students’ confidentiality by ensuring that none of their personally identifying information is disclosed unlawfully. It empowers learners to control the disclosure and utilization of their academic and medical data, Among other types of personal information. The increasing trends in school shootings require a foolproof threat identification and analysis prior to incident occurrence for better ERP. This phenomenon necessitates studying students and identifying potentially dangerous persons before they harm themselves and others. Studies by the United States Secret Service and the Department of Education on the past 37 school shootings also established that adequate intelligence could have prevented most incidents. They revealed that prior investigations, threat analyses, and dangerousness assessments may have enabled the authorities to identify potential culprits before the attacks. However, the information protection laws stipulated in the FERPA statute thwarted any potential preventative measures by the affected schools or the U.S. authorities. Overall, FERPA laws are too restrictive to facilitate the assessments of potentially dangerous persons.


A parent guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). SPPO-21-04, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99 (2021).

Cawood, J. S., & Corcoran, M. H. (2019). Violence assessment and intervention (3rd ed.). Taylor & Francis.

Peddada, K. (2013, April 18-19). Risk assessment and control [Conference session]. International conference Governance & Control in Finance & Banking: A New Paradigm for Risk & Performance, 2013, Paris, France.

Rights, Family Educational, and Privacy Act. (2018). Guide to.


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