In a ruling earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) clarified that automated calls and texts to wireless phone numbers by a school are exempt from restrictions under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The ruling was an extension of the TCPA “emergency purpose” exemption to schools and utility companies.
The updated rule provides a critical exemption for schools using mass communication technology, such as emergency text message systems, to contact students and parents. Prior to the ruling, it was unclear when a school needed to obtain prior written consent for automated communications.
In this ruling, automated calls and text messages sent by a school to student family wireless phones under the “emergency purpose” exemption do not require prior express consent but must be limited to just situations “affecting the health and safety of the consumers.” Additionally, the FCC provided clarification that a parent’s provision of a phone number to a school does constitute express consent to receive non-emergency calls or texts related to school activities. Community events or other activities not directly related to the school’s educational mission would not be allowed without explicit consent.
Importantly though, the ruling did not revisit liability standards for contacting reassigned wireless numbers. Schools should regularly update and clean their emergency call lists to prevent communications to consumers not connected to the school.
The ruling arose from petitions filed by Blackboard, Inc., Edison Electric Institute, and the American Gas Association.