I’ve Got 99 Problems But the Law Ain’t One

It’s the Law: 5 Laws Teachers in the U.S. Should Know

If you’re having legal troubles, I feel bad for you son. I’ve got 99 problems but the law ain’t one.

– K. Renae P.

There are so many important laws that you need to know when it comes to public schools and compulsory education in the United States. It is overwhelming really. Yet, there are some federal laws that every teacher should know and follow. These laws really aren’t up for debate because you know… It’s the law. You remember what happened to the fellow who fought the law?

fought the law


And even if you aren’t a teacher, these laws apply to you too especially if you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, guardian, or US citizen. So read up please.

5. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

This federal law gives parents and guardians certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These education records include academic, medical, and any other type of personal identifying information that is recorded in any way.  These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.  Parents have the right to inspect student records and request that schools change inaccurate records. Parents also have the right to maintain a certain amount of privacy as it pertains to their child’s records. However, there are some specific limitations, and schools are allowed to disclose some information. The things a school can disclose are pretty specific.

4. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

Schools generally do not need to worry about HIPAA privacy laws because they do not directly deal with medical records. However, children have a right to privacy (FERPA) as far as their medical diagnoses are concerned including ADD, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, HIV, depression, mental issues, addiction, etc. Be very careful about the public discussion of diagnoses and use of medication. Avoid discussing how children obtain their medication. Children like adults have a right to privacy.

3. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

This is the federal law many parents, educators, and districts are not aware of but should be. The primary goal of COPPA is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children (13 years or younger) online. Parents have a right to know what information is being collected online and how it is used. Parental permission for online use must be verifiable. The purpose of COPPA is not to limit what you do in the classroom but give parents control with what is shared about their child. There truly is an obvious difference.

My $0.02:

  • Do not share any information about any student online without permission (see FERPA). Get that permission in writing. Most schools send an online permission form at the beginning of the year. If your district doesn’t, it should. It’s the law.
  • If you post images your students’ faces, do not link the student’s name with the picture. There is no reason to add a name to a child in an image online.
  • Never list your a student’s full first and last name online. You really don’t need to do that.
  • Be very careful with what you share about your students on any social media outlet. In many cases, you may not have a legal right to share anything. You could lose your job. Don’t do it.
  • When doing online activities with your students, their privacy and protection should be your first priority. It isn’t worth having them blog, Twitter, or do any other social media if for some reason that may put them at some sort of risk. And certainly don’t do it without written permission of the parent or guardian.

2. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Any child in the U.S. regardless of disability has a right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE). If a student has been identified with some sort of exceptionality, they have a right to FAPE. It doesn’t matter whether you as a teacher agree or not; it is a federal law that you comply and provide the child with modifications and services to meet that child’s unique needs. These modifications should be documented in the student’s individualized education plan. Also see American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

1. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA offers great protection for workers including professionals in the field of education. FMLA provides unpaid, job protected leave and benefits coverage to employees who meet FMLA eligibility requirements. It also requires that the employee’s group health benefits be provided during the leave. To be eligible for FMLA, an employee must have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

The U.S. Department of Labor stated that FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. These employers must provide an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth
  • the placement of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”
  • Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service-member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service-member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave)


  1. Under some circumstances, employees can use FMLA intermittently. This is especially important for citizens with chronic issues.
  2. An employer may require you exhaust your paid leave before using FMLA.
  3. FMLA only secures your job not necessarily your current position.
  4. FMLA leave for the birth and/or adoption of a child applies to both women and men.




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