Owasso Independent School Dist. No. I-011 v. Falvo, 534 U. S. 426 (2002)

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OWASSO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. I-011, aka OWASSO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, et al. v. FALVO, parent and next friend of her minor children, PLETAN, et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 00-1073. Argued November 27, 2001—Decided February 19, 2002

Teachers sometimes ask students, including respondent's children, to score each other's tests, papers, and assignments as the teachers explain the correct answers to the entire class. Claiming that such "peer grading" violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA or Act), respondent filed a 42 U. S. C. 1983 action against the school district and school officials (petitioners). FERPA, inter alia, authorizes federal funds to be withheld from school districts that permit students' "education records (or personally identifiable information contained therein . . .)" to be released without their parents' written consent, 20 U. S. C. 1232g(b)(1); and defines education records as "records, files, documents, and other materials" containing information directly related to a student, which "are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution," 1232(a)(4)(A). In granting petitioners summary judgment, the District Court held that grades put on papers by another student are not "education records." The Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that FERPA provided respondent with a cause of action enforceable under 1983, and finding that grades marked by students on each other's work are "education records," so the very act of grading is an impermissible release of information to the student grader.

Held: Peer grading does not violate FERPA. Pp. 430-436.

(a) This Court assumes, without deciding, that FERPA provides private parties with a cause of action enforceable under 1983. Though that question is left open, the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction here because respondent's federal claim is not so completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy. Pp. 430-431.

(b) Petitioners and the United States contend that education records include only institutional records, e. g., student grade point averages, standardized test scores, and records of disciplinary actions. But respondent, adopting the Tenth Circuit's reasoning, contends that an assignment satisfies 1232(a)(4)(A)'s definition as soon as another student grades it. That court determined that teachers' grade books and the grades within are "maintained" by the teacher and thus covered by the

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