Recap of the Parents Bill of Rights - Part Two

March 31, 2023

This is Part Two of a two-part blog post detailing the Parents Bill of Rights. To read Part One, click here.

PPRA: What’s That Law Again? 

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) aims to protect students’ privacy by allowing parents to limit the personal information schools can collect from students. Many people know PPRA as the law that governs parental notification and opt in or opt out requirements when surveys are administered to students. These requirements differ based upon whether local education agencies require students to participate in the survey and whether student answers may reveal sensitive information. For more information on PPRA requirements, we recommend checking out this blog.

But there are other aspects of PPRA that most people don’t know about, including a blanket right for parents to inspect instructional materials upon request. PPRA requires that parents must also be notified and given an opportunity to opt-out when: 

  • Personal information from students is collected, used, or shared for marketing or selling that information; 

  • The school plans to administer a non-emergency, invasive physical examination or screening.

PBOR’s Amendments to PPRA

PBOR amends PPRA in multiple ways, including an easily overlooked provision that gives parents the ability to opt out of the collection, use, and sharing of personal information collected from their child for “legitimate educational purpose[s] to improve the education of students” - a change that may unintentionally prevent teachers from accessing student data needed to improve the quality of instruction. Allowing parents to opt-out of schools using student information for legitimate educational purposes may have serious impacts on student success, potentially leaving students “to navigate in the dark” when making pivotal decisions where educational data could shed light on paths forward.

Another major change is that PBOR would require schools to obtain specific, written consent from parents every time before requiring students to take a survey regarding 8 protected categories of information. PPRA currently requires schools to annually notify parents of relevant policies and approximate dates that sensitive surveys will be administered. But, PBOR would require schools to get written consent “provided specifically for such survey" - meaning schools may have to contact parents to ask permission individually each and every time before requiring students to take surveys related to the 8 protected categories. This would significantly increase the amount of parental correspondence and potentially amplify the many barriers to affirmative parental consent, such as language barriers. Schools use surveys for various purposes such as understanding and addressing students emotional health, gauging career interests, and assessing school quality. If schools are unable to receive broad parental opt-in to these surveys, schools may no longer be able to collect responses from a representative sample of students and lose the benefits of conducting surveys for these purposes.

As noted above, PPRA requires schools to notify parents before they conduct an “invasive physical examination or screening” and give parents the opportunity to opt-out. PBOR would change this to requiring schools to notify and receive parental opt-in before administering non-emergency “medical examinations or screenings” - defined as including any “mental health or substance use disorder screening.” It is a good idea to make some changes to this part of PPRA - for example, changing "physical" to "medical" and giving parents the ability to opt-out would enhance privacy and trust between parents and schools. However, there is a big difference between an opt-out (which would be ideal) and an opt-in (what PBOR would require). Students whose parents are not engaged or are otherwise unavailable to provide opt-in consent wouldn’t be able to get the medical care they need, including mental health services. 

Additionally, requiring opt-in for screenings could harm the very students who need help the most by making it more difficult for schools to identify when students need support. It is good for parents to know when schools administer non-emergency medical examinations or screenings to their children - and it could be an overstep if parents aren’t informed. However, requiring parental opt-in is inconsistent with the current widespread concerns about youth mental health and the likelihood that this may prevent students from receiving mental health services at school.

Perhaps even worse, PBOR would undermine evidence-based policymaking by not limiting this opt-in to surveys that collect personally identifiable information. This means that even de-identified or anonymized surveys may require parental opt-in, including the Youth Risk Behavior Survey–which does not collect any identifying information–that is used to monitor “health behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth in the United States.” This restriction is particularly noteworthy in the context of last month’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on child privacy, where multiple committee members cited the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which found “[p]oor mental health and suicidal thoughts and behaviors are increasing for nearly all groups of youth.” Schools are already required to notify parents and get their opt-in for any survey that involves the PPRA protected categories. This change would make it even harder for policymakers and local education agencies to identify and respond to emerging trends in negative student health behaviors–particularly since having an opt-in would likely result in schools collecting survey responses from an unrepresentative sample of students which would lead to inaccurate conclusions about the student population as a whole.

Required Disclosures to Parents Do Not Have Exceptions for Students Experiencing Abuse at Home 

In addition to amending FERPA and PPRA, PBOR also amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in a way that impacts student privacy rights. PBOR requires schools to disclose a variety of a child’s information to their parents, regardless of the dynamics of that relationship (for example if the parent is abusive and the child has a restraining order against them). Under PBOR, schools would not have a choice whether or not to disclose this information to parents, even if school administrators know that parents are highly likely to harm their child based on this information. As a result, students may be put in very dangerous situations. For example, schools may be required to notify parents and get parental opt-in before providing mental health counseling to students even if the counselor suspects the student may be subjected to abuse for seeking out those services. 

PBOR may have particularly harmful impacts on transgender youth who may experience abuse at home in response to their gender identity. In the 16-hour PBOR markup in early March, two amendments regarding parental notification and consent when schools affirm a child’s gender identity. 

To better protect children from potential abuse at home, PBOR should be carefully crafted in a way that accounts for and protects all children - not just the majority of children who have supportive parents. This idea was raised in the markup, with Representative Scott saying that “having a federal law that requires in all cases that the parents be informed may or may not be in the best interest of each and every child” and Representative Takano saying “Some parents are supportive and some parents may react in different ways. But we have to make laws that are wise and that account for all the possible circumstances.” To protect children who may experience abuse at home, legislators must consider an amendment to PBOR allowing schools to retain the ability to consider the safety of students when sharing information with their parents.


PBOR’s amendments to FERPA and PPRA could majorly disrupt how schools operate by: limiting the use of EdTech in schools, restricting access to student data for legitimate educational purposes, limiting the utility of survey data related to the 8 protected categories of information, and requiring schools to disclose information about students to their parents even if they know a child will be abused as a result of this disclosure.

That being said, PBOR reiterates a lot of rights that parents already have under existing law and things that many schools already do. Rather than focusing on writing accepted best practices into law where they become unfunded mandates for schools, policymakers should have an open dialogue with education stakeholders to directly address student privacy laws’ flaws while not unintentionally harm the students these laws aim to protect. Student privacy laws need to be updated in a way that carefully balances child privacy and wellbeing concerns against parental rights. Unfortunately, PBOR falls short on protecting student privacy.