The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), in effect since 1974, provides parents (and students of post-secondary institutions) with important rights regarding school records.
These rights include the right to inspect and review student records, the right to request amendment of records that the parent or eligible student believes to be inaccurate or misleading, the right to consent to disclosure of personally identifiable information contained in student records (except to the extent that FERPA allows disclosure without consent for certain types of information), and the right to file a complaint with the Dept. of Education.
For a quick summary of FERPA, click here.
For the actual FERPA law as of 2000, click here. A legislative history of FERPA , including recent changes from the 2001 Patriot Act, is also available online. Recent changes to FERPA from the No Child Left Behind Act are also explained here. One key change is that public high schools must now provide military recruiters with student contact information (names, addresses and phone numbers) without notification of parents. A joint letter from the Secretaries of Education and Defense was sent to high schools in October 2002.
FERPA applies to any educational agency (i.e. school district)or institution that receives funding from the Dept. of Education--this includes most public schools and virtually all US colleges and universities.
What are education records?
Education records covered by FERPA can exist in any medium (printed, computer file, e-mail, etc.) and include a wide range of information about a student, such as
Date and place of birth, parent(s) and/or guardian addresses and where parents can be contacted in case of emergencies.
Grades, test scores, courses taken, academic specialization and activities, and official letters regarding a student's status in school.
Special education records
Medical and health records that the school creates or collects and maintains
Documentation of attendance, schools attended, courses taken, awards conferred and degrees earned
Personal information such as a student's ID code, social security number, picture or other information that would make it easy to identify or locate a student.
As you can see, the "educational records" covered by FERPA are much more than just the single folder most schools produce when you ask to see student records--these include any records maintained by the school except "sole possession records" (e.g. notes intended only for the use of the person who took them), some medical treatment records, employment records (when the employment is not contingent on the employee being a student), records created and maintained by a law enforcement unit only for that purpose, and information obtained when the person was no longer a student (e.g. alumni files).
Rights of parents to review and seek amendment of records
Schools must give parents (and eligible students) the opportunity to inspect and review education records within 45 days of receipt of a written request.
If, upon review, parents find that the record is inaccurate or misleading, they may request changes or corrections. These requests should be made in writing according to local school policies. If a parent's request for amendment is denied, they must be offered the opportunity for a hearing. If, after a hearing, the school still refuses to amend the records, then the parent has the right to insert a written explanation stating their view into the record, and this must always accompany the disputed record whenever that record is provided to anyone else. This provision does not apply to grades (unless a clerical error has been made) or other educational decisions about students that school personnel make.
Schools may not destroy records if a request for access is pending.
Parents have the right to review all of their child's records listed above. Here is an example of an apparent FERPA violation in which it was alleged that some records were being withheld.
Parents' right to restrict disclosure of records
FERPA provides parents the right to consent to disclosures of personally identifiable information contained in the student's education records, except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without consent. One exception which permits disclosure without consent is disclosure to school officials with legitimate educational interests. A school official is a person employed by the School as an administrator, supervisor, instructor, or support staff member (including health or medical staff and law enforcement unit personnel); a person serving on the School Board; a person or company with whom the School has contracted to perform a special task (such as an attorney, auditor, medical consultant, or therapist); or a parent or student serving on an official committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance committee, or assisting another school official in performing his or her tasks. A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibility. Upon request, the School discloses education records without consent to officials of another school district in which a student seeks or intends to enroll.
The educational agency or institution can also disclose "directory information" regarding a student without getting consent each time, but intention to disclose must be included in the annual notification, with parents given the opportunity to "opt out". Directory information cannot include student identification numbers or Social Security numbers. It can include such information as name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, date and place of birth, photographs, weight and height of athletes, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, etc. See here for an example of one school district's listing of directory information.
Enforcement of FERPA
FERPA is enforced by the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) of the US Dept. of Education. Contact them with FERPA questions by phone at (202)260-3887 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FERPA is a spending statute ("no funds shall be made available...") and so the Dept. of Education can ensure compliance only through the threat of discontinuing federal funding (and this is unlikely for single instances of violation). A 2002 Supreme Court decision held that students and parents may not file a federal lawsuit against an educational agency or institution for a FERPA violation (a bill now awaiting consideration in the US House would reverse this), but some states do have laws that allow school-record-related lawsuits--in Oregon, for example, for the "reckless disclosure of education records."
Exercise your rights as a parent under FERPA
We recommend that, even when you are unaware of any specific issue, you review your child's school records at least annually for accuracy. If you have a specific issue, use these forms from the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan to request specific records and review those records, or request changes to the records, and don't be afraid to file a complaint if you feel your rights under FERPA have not been complied with.
Last updated September 2003