Law & Courts

Tenn. District Suspends Honor-Roll Recognition

By Michelle Galley — February 04, 2004 3 min read

For the time being, a student may make the honor roll in Nashville, Tenn., but dwell there in obscurity.

The Nashville school district has temporarily halted schools’ posting of the names of students who earned the recognition until officials iron out privacy issues. The prohibition has prompted schools statewide to examine a law dating back at least a decade.

Concern about the district’s honor-roll system arose last month, when two parents complained that some students might feel embarrassed by not achieving the distinction, according to Craig Owensby, a spokesman for the 70,000-student system. While investigating the complaint, district administrators learned from their lawyers that an honor-roll student’s name can be posted only if his or her parent previously signed a permission slip.

As a result, all honor-roll postings were curbed, and district officials scrambled to pass out the necessary forms to all parents in the district, Mr. Owensby said last week. “We’ve been distributing permission forms for over a week,” he said.

The district’s action does not address parents’ concerns about student embarrassment, Mr. Owensby acknowledged, but the complaint did draw attention to the state law requiring parental permission.

Events Canceled

Meanwhile, two schools have canceled assemblies at which administrators planned to congratulate students on their academic performance.

The dust-up also raised the ire of some parents, who contended that requiring parents to sign permission slips for the honor roll was taking student privacy laws too far, according to the Associated Press.

Both the honor-roll recognition and the academic assemblies will be in full swing again by the beginning of the next marking period next month, Mr. Owensby said. “We have every intention of rewarding students who do well.”

Having their names posted on an honor roll, he said, “is a powerful incentive for some students.”

Federal Law Differs

At the beginning of each school year, parents of children attending the Nashville schools are routinely asked to sign waivers allowing images of their children to be released and are given information about the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. The federal law was designed to protect student information from unauthorized disclosure.

But parents had not been asked to give permission for their children to be named as honor-roll students, Mr. Owensby said.

As a result of the flap in Nashville, other districts in Tennessee have been examining their honor-roll policies. Schools are looking for clarification from the state, according to Kim Karesh, a spokeswoman for the state education department.

The state law regarding permission slips for the honor roll has been on the books for at least the past 10 years, she said. But, Ms. Karesh added, she could not gauge compliance. “It is a complaint-driven system,” she said. “Not one we police.”

State law in Tennessee is stricter than FERPA. Student honors, annual yearbooks, athletic participation, and playbills for school performances are all examples of “directory information” that is exempt under the federal law.

“We’re so used to federal law trumping everything,” said Randall Bennett, the assistant executive director and legal counsel for the Tennessee School Boards Association. “Most everyone took the position that FERPA was the controlling law.”

Still, correcting the situation should not be difficult, he said. “Each fall, we have parents sign so many slips, we can certainly include one about the honor roll.”

Even though FERPA allows schools to release honor-roll information, districts around the country should consider following Nashville’s lead, said Charles J. Russo, an education and law professor at the University of Dayton, in Ohio. “One of the things that education law needs to be is proactive, to anticipate areas that could give rise to litigation and controversy,” he said.

Nashville school officials are also considering changes in how and when they get parental permission for next school year, Mr. Owensby said. “The bottom line of the whole situation is that we want to be sure we are in compliance with state law.”

Related Tags:

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

7796 - Director of EAL (K-12) - August '21
Dubai, UAE
GEMS Education
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools

Read Next

Law & Courts Supreme Court Considers Issue of Damages That Comes Up in Many Suits Over School Policies
The justices weigh whether students still have a case for "nominal damages" when schools change a policy in response to a lawsuit.
6 min read
supreme court IMG
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court to Weigh Whether Schools May Discipline Students for Internet Speech
The justices will hear the appeal of a school district whose discipline of a student for her vulgar message on Snapchat was overturned.
5 min read
Law & Courts District's At-Large Elections Violated Minority Voting Rights, Federal Appeals Court Finds
The case involves school board elections in a majority Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish district with a large Black and Latino population.
3 min read
Image of people at voting booths.
LPETTET/E+
Law & Courts Federal Appeals Court Revives Teacher's Pay-Discrimination Case Over Starting Salary
The court weighed an administrator's alleged comment that the teacher's starting pay was less because her husband worked.
3 min read