Protecting Student Privacy: Understanding FERPA Rights

Introduction to FERPA

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The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA (20 USC 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), is a piece of federal legislation enacted to safeguard student education records’ confidentiality. The law applies to any and all schools in the United States that are beneficiaries of any of the Department of Education’s funding programs.

Parental Rights under FERPA

Under FERPA, parents have certain rights concerning their children’s educational records. When a student reaches the age of 18 or enrolls in an institution with a level of education above that of a high school, these rights become theirs. “Eligible students” are those pupils to whom the rights have been conveyed.

Inspection and Review of Education Records

A look down a dimly lit hallway of school lockers towards an open entrance or exit door – 3D render

The school must allow students and their parents to inspect and review any education records that the school keeps on file for the student. Schools are only required to provide copies of students’ academic records if it is impossible for parents or students who are eligible to review them in person due to factors such as great distance. The school might cover the cost of copies.

Requesting Corrections and Formal Hearings

If a parent or student meets the requirements, they have the legal right to request that a school rectify any records they believe to be inaccurate or misleading. If the school chooses not to amend the record, the parent or student eligible to do so has the right to a formal hearing. The parent or eligible student has the right to place a statement with the record setting forth his or her view about the contested information if the school decides after the hearing that it will not amend the record despite the parent or student’s request.

Disclosure of Education Records

Signing a for consent to share records under FERPA
Signing a for consent to share records under FERPA

In most cases, schools are only permitted to release information from a student’s education record after first receiving written permission from the student or parent. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not require students’ parents’ permission before disclosing student information to the following individuals or organizations (34 CFR 99.31): officials from the school who have a legitimate educational interest; other schools to which a student is transferring; specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes; appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student; organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school; accrediting organizations; to comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena; appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and state and local law enforcement officials.

Directory Information and Consent

“Directory information” about a student, such as their name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors, awards, and attendance dates, can be disclosed by schools even without the student’s consent. However, schools must inform parents and eligible students about directory information and give them a reasonable amount of time to request that the school did not disclose directory information about them.

Annual Notice of Rights under FERPA

Under FERPA, schools are required to provide annual notice to parents and students, if they are eligible, of the rights that are theirs. The actual method of notification, which may take the form of a particular letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin or student handbook, or even an article in the local newspaper, is up to the discretion of each school.

In summary

FERPA serves as a steadfast shield, protecting the privacy of student education records and upholding parental rights. It empowers parents and eligible students to access and rectify records, backed by the option of a formal hearing. While written consent is typically required for disclosure, FERPA carves out exceptions. Moreover, schools can share “directory information” while honoring the choice to opt-out. Through annual notices, FERPA ensures ongoing awareness of rights. With FERPA as their guardian, students’ confidentiality remains safeguarded, enabling families to actively engage in their educational journey with unwavering assurance.

 

Check out these relevant websites for more information:

  1. Official FERPA website: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html
  2. Protecting Student Privacy: https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/ferpa-faqs
  3. U.S. Department of Education: https://www.ed.gov/

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