The federal Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act (commonly known as “FERPA”) became effective in 1974 and protects the privacy of student education records. This law applies to all public elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools, and private schools that receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education. It is important that school officials acquaint themselves with FERPA in order to protect student information.
Why FERPA is Significant
Under FERPA, a school may not just release student information whenever it wants to. If a school fails to respect the requirements of FERPA, it may lose its federal funding. FERPA provides parents with certain rights in connection with their children’s education records.
Once a student reaches the age of 18 or attends a secondary education, such rights are transferred to the student. These students are referred to as “eligible students.” Parents or eligible students are entitled to inspect and review his/her education records that the school maintains. Copies of records cannot be provided unless it is impractical for the student or parents to review such records.
If a parent or eligible student believes that something within the records is inaccurate or misleading, they have the right to request that the school correct the records. If the school fails to do so, the parent or eligible student is entitled to a formal process.
Who Can View Student Records?
In general, school must obtain written permission from the eligible student or parent in order to release information from a student’s record. In certain circumstances, the school is permitted to release the records without consent. The following is a few of the parties or conditions in which a school can release student records without prior consent:
• School officials with legitimate educational interest;
• Financial aid parties;
• State and local authorities; and
• Other schools where a student is transferring.
Every covered school is required to notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA.
Exceptions to FERPA
Safety concerns and the protection of students are defensible reasons to share student information without prior consent. If a student’s information is necessary to protect the health and safety of the student or others, a school may disclose personally identifiable information from a student’s record to the appropriate parties in connection with the emergency.
Implications for Schools
It is vital that school officials familiarize themselves with FERPA in order to know what and how student information may be shared.