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Do I have the right to know who can look at my files?

Q: Who is allowed to look at my personnel file? Must I be told who looked at my file, when, or why?

A: Teachers and other school employees should be familiar with and pay great respect to state and federal law making student records confidential. But they are wrong to assume that their personnel file as a school employee enjoys the same strong protections.

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA or the Buckley Amendment, defines who may and may not see student records, guarantees parents/guardians access to their children's school records, and prohibits release of student records without parental permission except to those with a legitimate educational interest. Employee personnel records are NOT covered by FERPA or state laws regarding the confidentiality of student records.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act provides some protection for personnel records because personnel records need not be disclosed as public records. However, the exception in Virginia Code section 2.2-3705.1 goes on to provide that personnel records "may be disclosed by the custodian in his discretion." The statute assures the employee access to his or her personnel record.

Public employees are protected as "data subjects" under The Virginia Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, with rights under Virginia Code section 2.2-3806. This includes the right to inspect their own file and to know who may have been the recipient of personal information about them from that file. There may be a log on the personnel folder or a computer record showing who has looked at a file. But the employee is not given advance notice that his or her record is being reviewed. Section 2.2-2806 allows the employee who rebuts something in the file to insist that the rebuttal be provided to any recipient of the statement being disputed.

Your questions highlight the importance of checking your own personnel record. Unless your school board policy establishes additional protections, you need not be told what is in the file or who reviews the file. VEA members can get assistance from their UniServ Director to request access to their own files, find out who has access to the files, or respond or rebut something in a file. I am pleased you are a VEA member and consulted the Association. We look forward to following up to help you review your personnel file.


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