Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment


Introduction *

The Family Policy Compliance Office in the Department of Education is responsible for enforcing both FERPA and the PPRA.  

There are currently eight (8) protected survey areas to which the PPRA applies.  If a school system requires its students to complete a questionnaire containing questions on any of the following topics, it must first notify the children’s parents and give them the option of opting out.  In recent years, the PPRA has become more relevant as public schools have become more concerned about such topics as student suicide, school violence, drug use, and bullying.  The requirement applies whether the surveys are federally funded or not.  The PPRA also gives parents additional rights with respect to physical exams/screenings and the distribution of directory information to outside agencies for marketing purposes.  (For details, see the official FPCO handout links below.)

1. political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent;

2. mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;

3. sex behavior or attitudes;

4. illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;

5. critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;

6. legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers;

7. religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent; or,

8. income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).


FPCO definitions of key terms *

Definition of some terms used in PPRA

“Instructional Material” – instructional material that is provided to a student, regardless of format, including printed or representational materials, audio-visual materials, and materials in electronic or digital formats (such as materials accessible through the Internet). The term does not include academic tests or academic assessments.definition

“Invasive Physical Examination” – any medical examination that involves the exposure of private body parts, or any act during such examination that includes incision, insertion, or injection into the body, but does not include a hearing, vision, or scoliosis screening.

“Personal Information” – individually identifiable information including: 1) a student or parent’s first and last name; 2) home address; 3) telephone number; or 4) social security number.

What follows are a number of documents provided by FPCO for schools and parents.  

PPRA for Parents

FPCO PPRA  FERPA Letter to Superintendentsdocuments

FPCO  PPRA Letter to Parents

A Model Annual Notification Letter to Parents

What is the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment

Section1232h.  Protection of Pupil Rights

FPCO PPRA Letter to Superintendents Sept 2009

case law

Case Law  *

Note:  The NCLB Act of 2001 amended the PPRA so that if a school is planning to ask its students to complete a survey that contains questions in the eight protected areas above, even if the survey is not federally funded, the school must still notify parents in advance and give them the option of  having their opt out of that/those survey(s).

Triplett v. Livingston County Board of Education,  KY Court of Appeal, 1997
Key Words:   PPRA, state testing
Published:  Yes
Decided for:  The school system

Parents do not have the right to “opt out” of state tests, since none of the questions of those tests would trigger the protections of the PPRA.

Altman v. Bedford Central School District, District Court, May 1999.
Key Words:  PPRA
Published:  Yes
Decided for:  The school system

The court held that while there was no private cause of action under the PPRA, the parents could sue under Section 1983.     The court’s conclusion, summarized, provided injunctive relief enjoining the school system from activities that disparaged or seemingly endorsed any religion.   The PPRA claims were rejected because the programs to which the students were objecting were not federally funded.

C.N. v. Ridgewood board of education, District Court, 2001.
Key Words:  PPRA, Section 1983, FERPA
Published:  Yes
Decided for:  The school system in part, the parents in part.  (The part the parents won had nothing to do with the PPRA.)

The school administered a survey that was voluntary and anonymous.   Some parents sued under the PPRA, Section 1983, FERPA, claiming that they had not had adequate warning, despite letters from the board to the parents stressing that the survey was voluntary and anonymous.  The court  found for the defendants on all counts.  Since no federal funds were used in the survey, the PPRA did not apply in 2001.  And even if it did apply, the PPRA only requires Consent if the survey is required (not voluntary.)  The letter to the parent and the directions to the survey itself made it clear that it was voluntary, even if some students might have thought otherwise. (And even if some survey administrators had told students it was required, that would have been contrary to the board policy, and they still would have been immune.    The parents apparently took a shotgun approach to the lawsuit, contending violations of the United States Constitutions, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, and FERPA . . . and according to the court, provided no evidence to support any of those claims.  The court’s discussion of the PPRA was unusually thorough and recommended reading.

PPRA Litigation After 2002

Fields v. Palmdale School District, Ninth Circuit, November 2005
Key Terms:  PPRA, survey
Published:  Yes
Decided for:  The school system

In this case, the school had informed the parents of a survey but failed to disclose the sexual nature of some of the questions.   These parents, appalled, sued, despite the surveys being both voluntary and anonymous.

The court ruled:

When parents of schoolchildren in Palmdale, California learned from their sons and daughters that they had been questioned in their public elementary school about sexual topics such as the frequency of “thinking about having sex” and “thinking about touching other peoples’ private parts,” some of them exercised their constitutional right to take their grievance to the courts.   The questioning was part of a survey the Palmdale School District was conducting regarding psychological barriers to learning.   The parents brought an action in district court against the School District and two of its officials for violating their right to privacy and their right “to control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex.”   They brought both federal and state claims.   The district court dismissed the federal causes of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and dismissed the state claims without prejudice to their right to re-file in state court.   We agree, and hold that there is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children, either independent of their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it.   We also hold that parents have no due process or privacy right to override the determinations of public schools as to the information to which their children will be exposed while enrolled as students.   Finally, we hold that the defendants’ actions were rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. 

C.N. v. Ridgewood, Third Circuit,December 1, 2005
Key Words:  PPRA, Survey
Published:  Yes
Decided for:  The school system

This was a continuation of the pre 2001 lawsuit above.  The parents appealed.  The Court affirmed the District Court decision.

Three students and their mothers (“Plaintiffs”) brought this action against the Ridgewood Board of Education (“Board”) and several individually named school administrators (collectively “School Defendants”). Plaintiffs claimed that the survey had been administered so as to be involuntary and non-anonymous and had thus violated their rights under the Family Educational Records Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g, the Protection of Pupil 4 Rights Amendment (PPRA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232h, and the United States Constitution. Prior to any discovery, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey denied Plaintiffs’ motion to enjoin release of the survey results and granted summary judgment to the School Defendants on the merits of the statutory and constitutional claims. C.N. v. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ., 146 F. Supp. 2d 528 (D.N.J. 2001). On appeal, this Court reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. 281 F.3d 219 (3d Cir. 2001) (unpublished). Following discovery and voluntary dismissal of the statutory claims, the District Court granted the School Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining constitutional claims. 319 F. Supp. 2d 483 (D.N.J. 2004). We will affirm.

And in summary:

However, because even assuming that fact in the Plaintiffs’ favor, no constitutional violation of the right to privacy or the First Amendment right against compelled speech has been shown, we will affirm the grant of summary judgment to the School Defendants.