The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student records. It applies to all educational institutions, namely schools, that receive any kind of funding from applicable programs provided by the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA was first introduced in 1974.
Parents initially hold the rights to the student records of their children. Once the students reach the age of 18, the rights then transfer to them. Students holding the rights to their records are called “eligible students.”
Purpose of FERPA
There are two primary purposes of FERPA. The first is to give parents or eligible students the right to control the release or alteration of student records. The second is to prohibit educational institutions from disclosing personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive information without explicit, written consent from the holder of the rights, either parents or eligible students.
FERPA granted rights
There are three general rights granted to parents and eligible students.
Parents and eligible students have the right to request to view education records. This allows them to inspect and review all of the information in records for accuracy.
After inspecting the records, the holder of the rights can request that the institution correct any information present on the records they believe to be inaccurate or misleading. Institutions do have the right to deny requests for alterations.
In these cases, parents and eligible students have two courses of action. They can either request a formal hearing to make their case for corrections and they can include a statement with the records that reflect their views on corrections they believe should be made.
Permission for the release of records
Schools must get written permission from parents or eligible students before they release records, with the exception of a few cases. Parents and students can deny these requests to release records.
The protected information included in student records include the following:
- Report cards
- Disciplinary records
- Contact and family information
- Class schedules
Permitted disclosures without consent
Institutions do have rights to release certain documents to certain parties or under particular circumstances without the consent of parents or eligible students. These include:
- School officials deemed to have a legitimate educational interest in a student’s records
- Schools a student will be transferring to
- Certain officials performing audits or evaluations
- Parties who deal with financial aid
- Organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, institutions
- Accrediting organizations
- In order to comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena
- Specified officials in the cases of a health or safety emergency
- State and local authorities within a juvenile justice system
Education institutions also have the right to disclose “directory information” without permission. This information includes names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates and locations of birth, dates of attendance and honors and awards. However, they are required to notify parents and eligible students of the upcoming release of the information to offer the opportunity for them to request this information not be disclosed.