The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records. The law applies to all schools that receive federal funding under an applicable program of the US Department of Education.

Intent of FERPA

FERPA provides guidelines for using and releasing student education records. FERPA intends that students' rights be broadly defined and applied. Think of the student as the "owner" of their education record and the college as the "custodian" of the education record.

When Do FERPA Rights Begin and End?

A person's FERPA-related education record begins with either of the following:

  • The person turns 18 years old.
  • The person enrolls in a higher education institution at any age.

FERPA rights (and the right to privacy) end at death, unless state law says otherwise.

Basic Rights of Students

Annual Notification of FERPA Rights

Colleges must notify students of their basic FERPA rights at least annually. The means by which that notice occurs is not specified.

Inspect and Review Their Records

Students have the right to see everything in their education record, except:

  • Information about other students
  • Financial records of parents
  • Confidential letters of recommendation if they waived their right of access (which cannot be required)

There is no records retention policy under FERPA. The college decides what records it creates and how long they are kept. You cannot destroy records once requested.

Consent to Disclosure

Students are the owners of their education records and have the right to control to whom their records are released. To release their records, students typically provide a signed release (electronic or paper). 

Exceptions

There are situations where a student's consent is not required to release their records. In these situations, the college may release records without consent – but it is not required to do so.

Examples of exceptions include:

  • School officials with a "legitimate educational interest" or "need to know." For example, employees and legal agents have access to education records in order to perform their official, educationally-related duties.
  • Disclosure to another institution where the student is trying to enroll or is enrolled
  • Disclosure to the US Department of Education or state or local education authorities
  • Disclosure in connection with the receipt of financial aid (validating eligibility), including veteran’s benefits
  • Disclosure to state or local officials in conjunction with legislative requirements
  • Disclosure to organizations conducting studies to improve instruction, or to accrediting organizations
  • Disclosure to parents of dependent students (IRS definition)
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena
  • Disclosure for a health or safety emergency
  • Disclosure of directory information
  • Disclosure of disciplinary information (Warner Amendment)
    If a student is found guilty of perpetrating a violent crime, then the name, sanction, and outcome from disciplinary proceedings may be disclosed to the alleged victim.
  • If a student is under the age of 21, then disclosure to parents of a violation of federal, state, local, or institutional laws or regulations related to substance abuse (Foley Amendment)

Right to File a Complaint

Students have the right to file a formal complaint with the US Department of Education if they believe their educational record has been mishandled.

Key Terms

Education Records

Education records include any record maintained by the college that is related to the student (in whatever format or medium) with some narrowly defined exceptions:

  • Records in the "sole possession of the maker" (for example, private advising notes)
  • Law enforcement records created by a law enforcement agency for that purpose
  • Employment records (unless the employment is based on student status)
    The employment records of student employees (such as work-study, wages, graduate teaching associates) are part of their education records.
  • Medical/psychological treatment records (such as from a health or counseling center)
  • Alumni records (such as those created after the student has graduated)

Directory Information

Directory information includes those data items that are publicly releasable. Each institution establishes what it considers to be directory information. At Los Rios Community College District directory information includes:

  • Name
  • Student identification number
  • Major field of study
  • Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • Weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • Dates of attendance
  • Degrees and awards received
  • Most recent previous public or private school attended by the student

Directory information cannot include:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Grades or grade point average (GPA)
  • Country of citizenship
  • Religion

"No Release" on Directory Information

Every student must be given the opportunity to have directory information suppressed from public release. This is referred to as a “No Release.” Everyone within the institution must respect a student’s No Release on their record.

Parent

With reference to FERPA, the term “parent” refers to either parent if the student is financially dependent (Internal Revenue Service definition).

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