What is FERPA?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) commonly is known as the law that protects the privacy of student “education records.” It generally regulates the disclosure of three main categories of records’ information to third parties. The statute regulates the notice and consent procedures which the education agency and the family must follow.
Education records are records that directly relate to the student and are maintained by the educational institution. FERPA does not protect all of the other records that may be related to the student such as private faculty notes, campus police records, and medical records. The exception that probably is most important for teachers to know is that FERPA’s definition of education records does not apply to records that are classroom records only. To use FERPA’s language, “records of instructional…personnel… which are in the sole possession of the maker thereof and which are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a substitute” are not education records. In essence, the records of students that stay in the classroom, such as class quizzes and instructor’s notes, are not “education records.” To the classroom teacher, this means that there may not be a FERPA violation if any of the classroom instructor’s records are revealed, but there may be other laws that protect some of the information.
Directory information is a confusing category to many. It generally covers personal information that is not considered harmful or invasive if disclosed, although it encompasses information people generally might think would or should be private. A partial list of what it may include is the student’s name, address, telephone numbers, email, date and place of birth, grade level, participation in school activities and sports (including weight and height of athletes), and honors and awards. Although a school is not required to obtain prior written consent for the disclosure of directory information, a school first must give public notice that: (1) identifies the categories of information it has designated as directory information with respect to each student in attendance that could be made available; (2) that the parent or eligible student has the right to restrict the disclosure of this information; and (3) that the school must allow a reasonable time for the parent or eligible student to notify the school that they do not authorize disclosure of the directory information.
Personally Identifiable Information
Personally identifiable information is self-defining. It covers private, personal information maintained by the educational institution that could identify a specific person, such as the student’s social security number, race, gender, grades, and transcripts. It does not, under the statute, include directory information as outlined above. Personally identifiable information and education records are jointly referred to as non-directory information.
What rights do parents or eligible students have?
Parents or eligible students (18 years and older) have the right to inspect and review a student’s education records within 45 days of first making a request. They may ask that a school correct records that the parent or student believes is inaccurate or misleading, except they cannot request an amendment of (1) grades, (2) school official opinions included within the record, or (3) substantive decisions that a school has made about the student. If the school does not make the correction, the parent or student may ask for a meeting with school officials. If the school still does not comply with the requested correction following the meeting, the parent or student may request that a statement containing the parent or eligible student’s views be placed in the record.
There are several exceptions to the rules prohibiting disclosure of non-directory information (education records and personally identifiable information.) A school does not need to obtain prior written consent to release a student’s non-directory information to: a school official within the present school with a “legitimate educational interest;” a school to which the student intends to transfer or enroll; a financial aid institution to which the student has or intends to apply; health and safety officials in case of emergency; state or local authorities in connection with violation of laws or policies, and other categories.
Who can disclose student educational records?
Each school or school district should have a designated custodian of records who can authorize the disclosure of student records. Teachers do not have access to all of these records and generally are not authorized to disclose them. As a reminder, records that the teacher keeps in the classroom that are not accessible or revealed to other persons are not considered educational records protected by FERPA.
Annual notification of FERPA rights and policies?
Schools must provide parents and eligible students annual notification of their rights under FERPA and the school’s policies with respect to those rights. This notification can be placed in a student handbook, on the school’s website, in a student newspaper, or posted in certain locations throughout the school.
FERPA is a lengthy and complex law. If a request for records of any kind is made from a third party, school personnel should consult with the school district’s custodian of records. MSTA members are encouraged to consult with the Legal Services Department if they have questions on this topic. A resource link to the FERPA government website is: www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/index.html.