The Murray School District is developing a policy to instruct teachers on what subjects they can ask students to write about without violating privacy laws.

"Teachers may innocently decide to ask students to write an essay about something about their families that might violate the privacy laws," says Barbara Brunker, director of pupil services and personnel for Murray District. "Our policy will help them know what subjects can be addressed and what can't."The 1994 Legislature passed a bill called the Utah Family Education Rights and Privacy Act that requires Utah school districts to enact policies requiring written parental permission prior to obtaining certain information from students relating to their families.

Federal and state laws prohibit administrators from giving psychological and psychiatric examinations - or treatment - without prior written consent of the student's parent or legal guardian if the purpose of the tests is to reveal private information about a student's family.

Most school administrators understand these testing restrictions, but teachers frequently don't realize that the same areas of a family's life are protected from intrusion within the context of classroom curricula, said Brunker.

Subjects relating to a student's family that are protected from questioning in a classroom curriculum include:

- Political affiliations or philosophies.

- Mental or psychological problems.

- Sexual behavior, orientation or attitudes.

- Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating or demeaning behaviors.

- Religious affiliations or beliefs.

- Legally recognized, privileged relationships such as with lawyers, medical personnel or ministers.

- Income.

If a student is required to write about any of these subjects, the teacher must receive written permission in advance from parents or guardians, said Brunker.

Debate on political topics, for instance, must be guided carefully so students understand the teacher is not asking for disclosure of their parents' political loyalties.

"Teachers don't intentionally probe into areas that are private in a family's life, but our school district policy will clarify exactly what the boundaries are. They need to be informed that there are rules that weren't there before. This policy will help teachers and students," said Brunker.

The first draft of Murray district's privacy act will be presented to the Murray District Board of Education Wednesday.