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Can I sue? Would a lawyer take this? Possible FERPA violation.

Portland, OR |

I am going to school online. I wrote a paper that stated I was suffering from depression but also that I was getting help. My teacher freaked out and showed the paper to the counseling office. They said nothing needed to be done but my teachers boss called the police anyway who showed up and said it was reported that I was going to kill myself. Now DHS is involved because we have two little boys. No where in my paper did it say that I was going to harm myself or my kids. It also stated that I was getting help and seeking counseling services.
Can I sue the college? Did they violate FERPA?

Attorney Answers 3


Based on the information provided, it is difficult to determine whether a FERPA violation occurred or whether FERPA even applies. However, I will address several issues which may provide some guidance.

FERPA is a federal law which is designed to protect the privacy of students' education records. This law applies to all schools that receive funds under applicable programs of the U.D. Department of Education. Accordingly, if your on-line school does not receive the requisite federal funding, then FERPA does not apply. Additionally, there is no private right of action or damages under FERPA. Accordingly, one would not sue based on a FERPA violation. However, there is a complaint procedure which is handled by the U.S. Department of Education. To find out more information and pursue a complaint go to the following link:

As noted above, it is unclear whether a violation occurred (assuming for the sake of argument that your school is covered ). A review of the purpose of your paper and the individuals to whom the paper was disclosed would need to be ascertained. The release of the paper to the police (if that was done) may be a concern and may involve other potential cause(s) of action. However, based on the information provided it is not clear whether there were any damages or harm resulting from any alleged wrong doing.

You may want to review the complaint procedures referenced above and determine whether you want to go that route first.

Good luck.

The information presented herein is intended to be informational, and not legal advice. Obtain competent legal representation for your particular matter.

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My school does receive federal funding. It is a local community college I am just doing all my classes online as I am a stay-at-home mom as well. I am now under "investigation" by a DHS child welfare worker due to this and it is causing us additional expenses. I do not know if the paper was released to the police or not. Thanks for your help.

Charles Weiner

Charles Weiner


If it is a community college, then it receives Dept. of Education funding and is covered by FERPA. Accordingly, you should review the complaint procedures and determine whether you wish to pursue that avenue initially.


It is unlikely that you have a sound basis for a lawsuit here, although I agree that for your own peace of mind you should consult with a local lawyer who practices eduction law in your jurisdiction in order to obtain a specific and detailed consideration of that question.

It is not clear that the school made any disclosure of any matter that is covered by FERPA. The school may have simply made a report to the police that there was a potentially dangerous situation that needed evaluation. FERPA and analogous statutes and regulations are highly specific and limited in their application and do not serve as "blanket" prohibitions as to any and all information about students and their course work. Then, too, there is the interplay of state statutes that require a notification when there is reasonable cause to believe that a child may be in a dangerous or neglectful situation. These statutes are not nullified by FERPA or any other federal privacy regulation. No one here can determine whether what you wrote justified that kind of action by the school.

Finally, there is the difficult issue of damages. On the one hand, if your children have not been removed from the home, then you are arguably not damaged in a legally cognizable manner. If they have been removed from the home, then there is likely to be a comparative weighing of the various applicable statutory obligations, with the need to protect the children identified and upheld as the most compelling among competing considerations.

I know that this has been a grievous and hurtful experience for you and that you will need to focus your efforts and emotional stamina and financial capability on reunification of your family and the best possible medical and psychological treatment for your emotional state. Talk with an attorney about whether you should contemplate initiating a lawsuit, but don't be surprised or emotionally set back if the recommendation is against that prospect.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

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I think you should contact:

Wiscarson Law, A Professional Corporation
510 SW 3rd Avenue
Suite 439
Portland, OR 97204
Office: 503-727-0202

Disclaimer Information on this site is provided by Brian Scott Wayson as general information, not legal advice, and use of this information does not establish an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions about your specific situation, please call an attorney.

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