A school superintendent who refused to release a student’s school records to police investigating a threat of school violence was within her rights under federal law, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has ruled.
In an official opinion, Cuccinelli said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act authorized the school chief to deny access to a pupil’s records for a law enforcement officer seeking information about a threatened school shooting in Page County.
The letter was prompted by an apparent conflict between the county school superintendent and a police captain after a student posted an online message saying, “Remember Columbine.”
Police searched the student’s home and found no weapons and searched him when he arrived at school the next day, again finding no weapon. Police apparently were unable to get a court order for detention. School officials told police the student had threatened to bring a gun to school after conflict with other students.
The police captain told the superintendent the student’s records were “essential” to establish the threat level. The superintendent said she was not required to provide the information, having determined there was “no emergency.” The police captain said there was a “potential emergency.”
Police obtained the records by search warrant several days later.
There is no indication that any violence ever occurred.
Cuccinelli found no conflict between federal and state law regarding disclosure of student records. The default rule is non-disclosure under both laws, he said.
The federal law allows disclosure only if the school system finds an “articulable and significant threat” to others’ safety, Cuccinelli said. School officials, not law enforcement, get to make the call, he said.
Whether the superintendent correctly assessed the circumstances was “beyond the scope of this opinion,” Cuccinelli said.
The request for Cuccinelli’s opinion came from Page County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kenneth Alger II.