In an age of proliferating technology, where information is both easier to obtain and harder to safeguard, it’s important for individuals who work in education to understand the rights of students under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the best practices to comply with its provisions.
FERPA is a federal law that was enacted to protect the confidentiality of student educational records and applies to all educational institutions that receive funds from the US Department of Education.
What information does FERPA protect?
FERPA protects personally identifiable information in students’ education records. Schools can disclose education records containing personally identifiable information only under specific circumstances or conditions, such as:
- With the written consent of the student
- When requested by a school official with a legitimate educational interest
- When the student is transferring to another school
- When complying with a subpoena or judicial order
Directory information encompasses items such as the student’s name, email and street addresses, telephone listing, date of birth, date of attendance, degrees and awards received, and major and minor field(s) of study. In general, information that would not typically be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.
Students’ rights under FERPA transfer from their parent or guardian to the “eligible student” themselves after they turn 18 or when they enroll at a post-secondary institution at any age. However, if a student 18 or older is still claimed as a dependent by either parent or guardian for tax purposes, then schools may legally disclose information to them. While FERPA allows the disclosure, the law does not require schools to disclose student education records to anyone but the student.
The value of FERPA training
With the amount of information collected and used by colleges, universities, trade schools and other higher education institutions, it’s essential that school employees and others who deal with student education records understand their responsibility to protect student records covered under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).