Your School and Confidentiality
Parents and guardians have the right to access your school records, and this might include some health information that is necessary for your enrollment such as immunization records. These records must be disclosed to your parents if they ask for them.
Teachers and most other school employees are not bound by confidentiality like health care providers. Highly personal information, such as a pregnancy, sexual orientation, or mental health may be disclosed without your consent. Police, school safety, and school resource officers who work in your school are not required to keep information confidential, so it’s best not to share any private information with them. It is important to discuss your school’s confidentiality policy before choosing to talk about confidential information.
Phuong, a high school junior, complains to the school nurse that she has a sore throat and cannot eat. Phuong’s parents signed a consent form at the beginning of the school year authorizing the nurse to treat Phuong. Can the nurse reveal this information to Phuong’s parents? To the principal?
The nurse might disclose this information to Phuong’s parents because they have a right to access their child’s “education records.” This includes any health records maintained in the school and available to school employees. However, the medical information should not be disclosed to the principal without the permission of Phuong’s parents.
In a counseling session with the school social worker, Jessi reveals that she is a lesbian. She asks the social worker not to tell anyone. Can the social worker “out” Jessi to her parents?
Because of professional obligations to maintain the student’s privacy, the social worker probably would not inform Jessi’s parents, but if the social worker makes note of the information, and it is stored in the school’s permanent files, Jessi’s parents would likely have a right to view those records.
Diana, 16, gives her gym teacher a note requesting that she be excused from gym because she is pregnant. Is the teacher bound by confidentiality?
Maybe. Generally, teachers do not have the same confidentiality obligations as health professionals. Depending on the circumstances, however, disclosure might violate professional ethics and/or the student’s privacy rights. It would be best for the teacher to talk to the student about whether she has the support of her parents or other adults regarding the pregnancy. If the student needs additional support, the teacher might work with her to approach social workers, counselors, or others trained to support students in such situations.