What is FERPA?
FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, also known as the Buckley Amendment. This law is designed to protect student privacy on higher education campuses. FERPA gives students the following three rights:
- The right generally to control the disclosure of their educational records to others.
- The right to inspect and review their personal educational records.
- The right to seek changes or amendments to their educational records.
With those rights in mind, let’s go one step further to define “educational records.” According to the law, to qualify as an educational record, these documents have to be related to the student and maintained by an educational agency or their agent. “Record” means any recorded information including, but not limited to, handwriting, print, computer media, video or audio tape, film, microfilm and microfiche; however, the law does not require that the school keep any specific records.
So, what should you do as an institution to avoid FERPA pitfalls when it comes to requests for student educational records?
- Train your staff on FERPA. Since it is a federal guideline, there are a lot of great trainings in the marketplace on the topic. Helpful Hint: Try the U.S. Department of Education’s Paper of “FERPA General Guidance for Students” located here.
- Have a signed and dated written consent from all relevant students specifying the records to be disclosed, the purpose for which they can be disclosed, and the person or classes to whom they may be disclosed.
- Have a policy explaining the distribution of defined directory information (including name, address, email address, telephone number, photograph, major, dates of attendance, degrees and honors) which is not considered generally harmful to distribute and includes the student’s opportunity to “opt out.” Helpful Hint: Students cannot use the “opt out” provision to prevent disclosure of name and institutional address.
What about faculty?
- Don’t post grades by name; post only by anonymous number and not in alphabetical order.
- Don’t have self-service pick up of exams.
- Don’t write a letter of recommendation unless you have a signed consent.
- Don’t talk to parents unless you have a signed consent from the student.
- Be careful about what you share about students, what you write down and how you dispose of it.
- Be cautious about emails and other electronic communications. Utilize official emails whenever possible to ensure that you are only sharing information with the student. Never put grades in an email.
As always, have a policy and follow it!
Rockwell’s Recommendation: Because student information cannot be given out to third parties, what do you do if someone needs to reach the student because of an emergency? All such inquiries should be directed to campus police. Do not provide anyone (other than college employees) with student schedules or aid anyone in finding a student on campus.