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What Is FERPA?

Privacy is a concept that Americans value very highly. We want to keep our information private and have control over what of it is shared and when it should be released. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the confidentiality of student records. FERPA, which is also known as the Buckley Amendment, applies to schools that receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

Schools that are required to abide by FERPA must have written procedures in place to comply with the act's regulations. Schools are also required to notify parents and students 18 and older annually of their rights under FERPA. Read on to learn more about the protections provided under FERPA.

What's Protected Under FERPA?

FERPA only applies to a student's education records. Education records are defined as information directly related to the student and maintained by an educational institution, such as grades for example. Records kept by the law enforcement unit of an educational institution are not protected under FERPA.

The act doesn't require schools to keep particular education records. Instead, schools must provide privacy protections to the education records that it does keep. More specifically, FERPA protects personally identifiable information that is derived from education records. If a school official obtains information by personal observation or knowledge, that information is not protected by FERPA.

Who Has Access and Control?

The Buckley Amendment protects the privacy of student records by only allowing certain information about a student to be released after obtaining consent. Before a student turns 18 years old, his or her parents have access to the student's records. The parents of a student under 18 years old can view, correct, and control the student records.

After a student turns 18 years old, he or she becomes an "eligible student" and gains access to and control over his or her records. At that point, a parent can only have access to the student's records in two situations. One exception to this rule is if the student gives his or her consent to allow his or her parent to access the student records. A parent can also gain access to his or her child's student records if the parent can show that he or she still claims the student as a dependent. The parent can do so by providing a tax return showing the child's dependent status.

When Is Consent Not Required?

While schools generally must have written consent from a parent or eligible student in order to disclose information from a student's education records, there are instances where the Buckley Amendment allows schools to disclose student records without consent. Instances in which a school can disclose a student's education record without consent include:

  • In the event that a student transfers schools
  • In order to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena or judicial order
  • To accrediting organizations that request the information

In addition, schools don't need consent in order to disclose directory information, such as a student's name, dates of attendance, telephone number, address, honors and awards, and date and place of birth. However, before disclosing this type of information, schools must tell parents and eligible students about the disclosure and allow enough time for them to request that the directory information not be disclosed.

Getting Legal Help

If you have questions or concerns about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, you may want to consult with an education attorney in your area.

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