October 23, 2012

Cases of Interest to the School Community 2001–2002 Term

Education Law

Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo

A unanimous Supreme Court emphatically ruled that The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) does not prohibit teachers in presecondary public schools from telling students to grade each other's homework papers, quizzes, and tests while the teacher reviews the answers in class out loud.

In oral arguments held November 27, 2001, the lawyers in this case debated whether Congress, in enacting the FERPA (20 U.S.C. § 1232g), intended to prohibit the common practice of student "peer grading" of routine homework papers, quizzes, and tests.

On February 19, 2002, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that peer grading does not violate the FERPA. The court said it doubted that Congress meant the act to authorize the federal government "to exercise minute control over specific teaching methods and instructional dynamics in classrooms throughout the country."

Seven justices joined Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion, which concluded that even "assuming" a teacher's grade book is an education record, the grades students place on each other's papers are not student records covered by the act—"at least until the teacher has recorded them." Justice Kennedy said that the court did not need to reach the broader question of "whether the Act protects grades on individual assignments once they are turned in to teachers."

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a separate concurring opinion to say that he disagreed with those aspects of Justice Kennedy's opinion that suggested the statute's reference to "education records" should be read as including only documents that are kept in a central school repository.

Read the Majority Opinion holding that the Tenth Circuit erred in concluding that peer grading violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Read a Transcript of Oral Arguments in this case.

Read the Tenth Circuit's Opinion holding that peer grading violates the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act.

Read the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act.

Read the U.S. Amicus Brief in support of the Owasso school district.

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