In a recent blog post on the website Sandy Hook Justice, Wolfgang Halbig once again demonstrates his lack of knowledge regarding the law and school policy despite his background in school administration and police work. In the unwieldy titled post “Wolfgang W. Halbig Files Civil Rights Complaint For Federal Civil Rights Violations on a former Florida State Trooper, US Customs Inspector, US Military Veteran, Teacher, Coach, Dean, Assistant School Principal, Principal of an Alternative School, Director of School Safety and Director of Risk Management” (1) Mr. Halbig shares a letter he wrote to the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice informing them of FERPA violations. Mr. Halbig asserts that the publication of photos of children evacuating Sandy Hook elementary was a violation of FERPA laws.
“On December 14, 2012, minor children were used for monetary and political gains. These acts are serious violations of the federal FERPA laws.”
FERPA has nothing to do with protecting minor children from being used for monetary and political gain. FERPA is a federal law (read about it here) that protects the privacy of student education records. It applies to public schools and other schools that receive federal funds. It prevents the school from releasing grades and test scores among other things without parental consent. It’s that same law that keeps grades off limits to the tuition-paying parents of college students. But I don’t see where the FERPA law addresses using children for monetary or political gains.
“The federal FERPA laws protect minor children’s faces and their identifiable facial features from being published.”
FERPA does not protect minor children’s faces and their identifiable facial features from being published. Again, it’s about things in the educational record. From what I can gather, a student ID photo potentially could be part of the educational record. But photos a reporter takes of a bus unloading on the first day of school are not part of the educational record. FERPA would require parental consent in order for a school administrator to release a photo of the valedictorian’s final report card. However, it does not prevent the press from publishing a photograph of the valedictorian delivering the commencement address.
To be fair, Mr. Halbig isn’t the only current or former school administrator who doesn’t understand what FERPA protects and what it doesn’t. The Student Press Law Center has a whole website that fact checks FERPA cases and hands down a decision on whether the law was applied appropriately.
“The Connecticut Newtown bee newspaper violated the privacy rights of every minor child that you see in my attached photos as well as the privacy rights of their parents on December 14, 2012.”
If there is a law prohibiting the publication of images of minor children at a news worthy event, I couldn’t find it. Regardless, it certainly isn’t FERPA. There are laws restricting photography on private property or where there is an expectation of privacy (e.g., a public bathroom). There are copyright laws which should prevent people like Mr. Halbig from swiping someone’s photo and reproducing it on a website. And then of course, there is an ethical argument. Common decency may cause an individual or news organization to blur the faces of minors, or opt not publish such a photograph in the first place.
But if The Newtown Bee did violate the privacy rights of those children in the evacuation photo, isn’t Mr. Halbig violating those rights too?
(1) Don’t confuse the above referenced article with the article titled “Federal Civil Rights Violations on a former Florida State Trooper, US Customs Inspector, US Military Veteran, Teacher, Coach, Dean, Assistant School Principal, Principal of an Alternative School, Director of School Safety and Director of Risk Management.”