Answer: Sharing a student’s homeless status with teachers is not per se illegal, but there do need to be procedures in place to ensure the information is protected. A blanket policy of sharing homeless status with all teachers is likely to violate regulations under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the McKinney-Vento Act unless parents and students 18 or over are informed and given the opportunity to opt out of sharing that information.
As you know, a student’s homeless status is a protected educational record. However, there is an exception under FERPA that allows sharing educational records with school officials who have a legitimate educational interest. Teachers are school officials, and in some cases teachers would have a legitimate educational interest in the information. If the principal wishes to share information about homelessness with teachers, the principal must determine whether each teacher has a legitimate educational interest in the information. In addition, the school must inform parents and eligible students of how it defines the terms “school official” and “legitimate educational interest” in its annual notification of FERPA rights.
Based on the FERPA regulations and the McKinney-Vento Act, the school should let parents and unaccompanied youth know under what circumstances homeless status will be shared with teachers. Telling teachers without getting approval from parents and youth first could be a barrier to retention in school, as many students have stated how traumatic and upsetting it was when their teachers were told without the youth knowing first. That would violate the McKinney-Vento Act.
Your practice of sharing the information on a need-to-know basis, and informing parents and youth prior to sharing, is the surest way to ensure compliance with McKinney-Vento and FERPA. A blanket policy of sharing homeless status with all teachers is likely to run counter to both FERPA and McKinney-Vento.