October 30, 2007
October 30, 2007
Dear School Official:
Following the heartbreaking event at Virginia Tech in April of this year, President Bush asked former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, and me to lead a national dialogue regarding steps the nation can take to prevent such tragedies at schools in the future. We toured the country talking to state and local leaders, educators, mental health experts, parents, students and law enforcement officials about issues affecting the safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff. There were several recurring themes heard across the country. These included the need for additional guidance on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the federal law that protects the privacy of students' education records, as well as information on resources that are available to help schools and institutions of higher education plan for, respond to and recover from a serious incident.
In response to these comments, I am pleased to provide you with the enclosed brochures on FERPA as a timely refresher to help you appropriately balance student privacy and school safety, as well as with a handout summarizing key emergency management resources available to you.
The FERPA brochures for school officials include contact information for obtaining additional guidance and assistance. Understanding the law empowers school officials to act quickly and decisively when problems arise. We have also included a separate brochure for parents that we encourage you to distribute. A copy of the brochures may be found on the Department's Web site at: http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/safeschools/index.html.
The handout on emergency management resources includes a variety of materials developed by the Department of Education and our partners in the federal sector. Although it is not a comprehensive list of all available resources, it is a useful summary of key resources that will assist you in the development of an emergency management plan for your school and/or community. I encourage you to consider the enclosed information and to include it on your school Web site.
Nothing is more important to Americans than the safety of their children. FERPA is not intended to be an obstacle in achieving that goal. I hope that the brochures and handout will be of help to you in safeguarding the students for whom you are responsible. May our tribute to those we lost in Virginia be our commitment to forestall tragedies such as the one that took their lives.