Learn what is FERPA

Have you registered a child for school this Fall? How much paperwork was required to complete the registration process? Have you ever thought of how much Personal Identifying Information (PII) is stored in your child’s school records? There is a Federal law for data privacy that applies to schools. Have you heard of FERPA? 

FERPA stands for The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). It is a Federal law that was signed into law in 1974. It protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. 

And it applies to PII that is disclosed from your school or district to an outside company. Outside companies or third-party providers handle services that the school is unable to. Examples of these are student information systems, instructional improvement systems, online education programs or apps, and assessment systems. 

The purpose of FERPA is to give parents certain rights concerning their children’s education records. Importantly, these rights transfer to the student when they turn 18 or attend a school beyond the high school level. Under FERPA an “eligible student” is a student who has had the rights transferred to them.  

The purpose of FERPA is to give parents certain rights concerning their children’s education records.

What are those rights? 

  • First, Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student’s education records maintained by the school. 
  • Second, Parents or eligible students have the right to request that a school correct records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student then has the right to a formal hearing. After the hearing, if the school still decides not to amend the record, 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.
  • Generally, the parent or eligible student must provide written permission to the school before they release any information from a student’s educational record.

What is an educational record according to FERPA?

These records include but are not limited to grades, transcripts, class lists, student course schedules, health records (at the K-12 level), student financial information (at the postsecondary level), and student discipline files.

Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student’s education records maintained by the school.

Is there a time when school records can be disclosed without consent?

FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions:

  • School officials with 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 authorities, within a juvenile justice system, under specific State law.
What records are protected by FERPA?

What information is protected by FERPA?

Personally Identifiable Information (PII).  FERPA defines the term personally identifiable information (PII) to include direct identifiers (such as a student’s or other family member’s name) and indirect identifiers (such as a student’s date of birth, place of birth, or mother’s maiden name). Indirect identifiers, metadata about students’ interaction with an app or service, and even aggregate information can be considered PII under FERPA if a “reasonable person” in the school community could identify individual students based on the indirect identifiers together with other reasonably available information, including other public information. 

FERPA classifies protected information into three categories: educational information, personally identifiable information, and directory information.

The educational institution can only disclose personally identifiable information if it obtains the signature of the parent or student (if over 18 years of age) on a document specifically identifying the information to be disclosed, the reason for the disclosure, and the parties to whom the disclosure will be made. Failure to comply with these requirements will result in a violation of FERPA.

How does FERPA apply to directories?

What is FERPA directory information?

FERPA does not bar disclosure by the educational institution for directory information. Directory information is defined as “information contained in an education record of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.” Schools may disclose, without consent, “directory” information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.

What is a FERPA waiver?

FERPA waivers apply to post-secondary education. Waiving your right lets colleges know that you do not intend to read your recommendations, which helps reassure colleges that the letters are candid and truthful.

FERPA provides transparency

Most importantly parents will want to know what a provider is doing with their child’s data. Transparency about what data are being collected and how they are being used is always the best policy for both schools and districts and their providers. 

Do you need FERPA training?

VanRein Compliance provides on-demand training on FERPA so that district employees and third parties are knowledgeable about FERPA and provide for the safety of student PII and educational records. If you work in a school or have access to student data you can take our training. Conversely, if you know someone who needs this training please let them know that we have it available. We want the people who work with children’s PII to know FERPA law and follow its guidelines. Follow the link here to preview our course.