HLERK has continued to monitor the Federal Communication Commission’s rulings on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. On June 18, 2015, the FCC issued a declaratory ruling which, in effect, prohibited school districts from placing robocalls or sending automated text messages to cell phones without express consent, except in emergencies. The statements of the Commissioners that were included in the June 2015 ruling suggested that weather-related school closures and unexcused absences did not meet the definition of “emergency,” and thus school districts were required to obtain express consent before placing robocalls or sending automated text messages to cell phones about such school closures and unexcused absences.

On August 4, 2016, the FCC issued a further declaratory ruling clarifying the June 2015 ruling as it applies to schools. The August 2016 ruling states that “school callers may lawfully make robocalls and send automated texts to student family wireless phones pursuant to an ‘emergency purpose’ exception or with prior express consent without violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).” The declaratory ruling further clarifies that the “emergency exception” applies to “emergencies including weather closure, fire, health risks, threats, and unexcused absences.” Therefore, school districts no longer require express written consent before placing robocalls or sending automated text messages in the case of these enumerated emergencies.

In addition, the FCC stated that schools generally may place robocalls or automated text messages regarding parent-teacher conferences, school events, and school surveys (i.e., matters that are closely related to the mission of the school) if the parent or guardian has not opted out of such communications. The FCC found that no prior express consent is required for these communications because providing a cell phone number amounts to providing implied consent to receive such communications. Further, the FCC encouraged schools to disclose the full range of potential calls and messages that a parent/guardian should expect to receive.

Finally, the FCC reaffirmed that schools must honor all revocation requests and opt-out requests from parent/guardians who do not wish to receive such communications.

For your TCPA related inquiries, please contact Steve Richart or Kaitlin Atlas.