Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Guidelines for the Release of Student Information Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)

 

Purpose of FERPA

FERPA deals specifically with the Educational Records of students, affording them certain rights with respect to those records. For purposes of definition, Educational Records are those records which are: directly related to a student and maintained by an institution or a party acting for the institution.

FERPA gives students who reach the age of 18 or who attend a postsecondary institution the right to inspect and review their own Educational Records. Furthermore, students have other rights, including the right to request amendment of records and to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from these records.

FERPA applies to the Educational Records of persons who are or have been in attendance in postsecondary institutions, including students in cooperative and correspondence study programs. FERPA does not apply to records of applicants for admission who are denied acceptance or, if accepted, do not attend an institution. Furthermore, rights are not given by FERPA to students enrolled in one component of an institution who seek to be admitted in another component of an institution.

Definition of Educational Records

A "educational record" means any information recorded in any way, including handwritten, print, computer media, video or audio tape, film, photographs, microfilm, or microfiche, that are directly related to a student and maintained by the institution or by a party acting for the institution. The term "Educational Records" does not include the following:

  • records of instructional, supervisory, administrative, and certain educational personnel which are in the sole possession of the maker thereof, and are not accessible or revealed to any other individual except a substitute who performs on a temporary basis (as defined in the institutional personnel policy) the duties of the individual who made the records.
  • records maintained by a law enforcement unit of the educational agency or institution that were created by that law enforcement unit for the purpose of law enforcement.
  • Records relating to individuals who are employed by the institution, which are made and maintained in the normal course of business, relate exclusively to individuals in their capacity as employees, and are not available for use for any other purpose.
  • Records relating to a student which are:
    1. created or maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional, acting in his/her professional capacity or assisting in a paraprofessional capacity or assisting in a paraprofessional capacity
    2. used solely in connection with the provision of treatment to the student
    3. not disclosed to anyone other than individuals providing such treatment.

Definition of Legitimate Educational Interest

It means the demonstrated need to know by those officials of an institution who act in the student's educational interest, including faculty, administration, student employees, clerical and professional employees, and other persons who manage student records information. Any school official who needs information about a student in the course of performing instructional, supervisory, advisory, or administrative duties for the University has a legitimate educational interest.

Student Records

Except for certain public information, student records are regarded as confidential and are maintained by the University primarily to benefit students in their educational and professional advancement. As required by FERPA, the University has adopted a policy on student records. That policy, the University of Michigan Student Records & Student Rights Policy, is published in the University Catalog and available for viewing at http://www.umd.umich.edu/policies_st-records/.

FERPA applies to records that relate to any current or former student. A "student" is defined as anyone who is or has been in attendance at the University. FERPA does not apply to records containing information gathered after a student has graduated or otherwise left the University. As a general rule, it also does not cover individuals who have applied but were not admitted or who were admitted but did not enroll.

Generally, FERPA and University policy prohibit disclosing without a student's written permission most information contained in student records to anyone outside the University, including a student's parents, or to University employees unless the employee demonstrates a legitimate educational interest consistent with his or her official function for the University and consistent with usual professional and legal practices. FERPA sets forth limited circumstances under which information in a student's records can be released without the student's prior written permission. Requests for information from a student record from anyone other than the student or a University employee who has a legitimate educational interest should be directed to the Office of the Registrar. Requests for information from a student record from a University employee should be directed to the office that maintains the student record in question, and in such cases, the employee must demonstrate a legitimate educational interest consistent with his or her official function for the University and consistent with usual professional and legal practices. FERPA gives students the right to inspect and obtain a copy of their own records with certain limited exceptions. Many units have identified individuals to whom students need to make such requests for access. The Web site with the University of Michigan-Dearborn Student Rights and Student Records policy (URL above) lists many of the offices that maintain student records. FERPA provides a mechanism for a student to challenge and respond to information contained in his or her student records.

Exceptions to Student Consent for Release of Educational Records

FERPA allows the institution the right to disclose student records or identifiable information without the student's consent under the following circumstances:

  • to authorized representatives for audit of Federal- or State-supported programs.
  • to University employees who are in the process of carrying out their specifically assigned educational or administrative responsibilities acting in the student's educational interest.
  • Veteran's Administration officials.
  • officials of other institutions in which a student seeks or intends to enroll on the condition that the issuing institution makes a reasonable attempt to inform the student of the disclosure unless the student initiates the transfer.
  • persons or organizations providing financial aid to students.
  • organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions to develop, validate, and administer predictive tests, to administer student aid programs or to improve instruction, provided that individual identity of students is not made.
  • accrediting organizations carrying out their accrediting functions.
  • parents of a student who have established that student's status as a dependent according to Internal Revenue Code of 1954, Section 152.
  • Persons in compliance with a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena, provided that the institution makes a reasonable attempt to notify the student in advance of compliance. NOTE: The institution is not required to notify the student if a federal grand jury subpoena, or any other subpoena issued for a law enforcement purpose, orders the institution not to disclose the existence or contents of the subpoena.
  • Persons in an emergency, if the knowledge of information, in fact, is necessary to protect the health or safety of students or other persons.
  • an alleged victim of any crime of violence of the results of any institutional disciplinary proceeding against the alleged perpetrator. The information may only be given in respect to the crime committed.
  • schools may disclose personally identifiable information from Educational Records to an outside contractor without prior written student consent if the outside contractor is a "party acting for" the institution and is performing a service which the institution would otherwise have to perform for itself (as in the case of the National Student Loan Clearinghouse for loan verification).

Challenge of the Contents of Educational Records

Provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended by the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, govern access to a student's disciplinary file. The student and/or those university officials who demonstrate a legitimate educational need for disciplinary information may have access to the student's disciplinary file. Parent(s), who provide proof that a student is a dependent as defined in Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, i.e., a copy of the last federal income tax return listing the student as a dependent, can have access to the student's disciplinary file without written consent of the student. In this case, parents may also have access to a disciplinary file, even if the student has requested otherwise.

In addition, parent(s) may be notified if a student under 21 years of age is found responsible for a violation involving use or possession of alcohol and drugs.

The Campus Security Act permits higher education institutions to disclose to alleged victims of any crime of violence (murder, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft) the results of the conduct proceedings conducted by the institution against an alleged perpetrator with respect to such crime. The Campus Security Act also requires that both accused and the accuser be informed of campus conduct proceedings involving a sexual assault.

Additionally, the Higher Education Amendments of 1998 permit disclosure of the final results of disciplinary cases in which a student has been found responsible for a violation involving violence or for a sex offense.

Institutions must provide students with an opportunity to challenge and amend the contents of their Educational Records which the students consider to be inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of their privacy or other rights. Officials who receive challenge requests must decide within a reasonable period of time whether corrective action consistent with the student's request will be taken. The student must be notified of the decision. If the decision is in agreement with the student's request, the appropriate record(s) must be amended. A student who is not provided full relief sought by his/her challenge must be informed by the appropriate official, in writing, of the decision and his/her right to a formal hearing on the matter.

Parental Access to Children's Educational Records

At the postsecondary level, parents have no inherent rights to inspect a student's Educational Records. The right to inspect is limited solely to the student. Records may be released to the parents only under the following circumstances:

  • through the written consent of the student,
  • in compliance with a subpoena,
  • by submission of evidence that the parents declare the student as a dependent on their most recent Federal Income Tax form (IRS Code of 1954, Section 152).

Posting of Grades by Faculty

The public posting of grades either by the studentís name, institutional student identification number, or social security number without the studentís written permission is a violation of FERPA, whether done via paper source or via electronic means (including the World Wide Web).  Grades can be posted by using randomly assigned numbers known only by the faculty and the individual student or by using the last four digits of the student ID numbers in such a way that individual privacy is protected (e.g., not listing the students in alphabetical order).

Distributing graded work in a way that exposes the studentís identity (such as on a web site) or leaving personally identifiable, graded papers unattended is not viewed differently from posting grades publicly.  A system must also be used in returning student papers and exams to prevent access and/or release to anyone other than the student.

Students' Rights After Ceasing Attendance or Graduating

Students who have ceased attendance or have graduated from an institution of higher education have basically the same FERPA rights as students currently attending the University, including the right to:

  • inspect their Educational Records
  • have a hearing to amend an education record, and
  • have their education privacy protected by the institution. Once a student leaves the University, they do not have the right to request privacy.

References for Students by Faculty

FERPs prohibition on disclosure of personally identifiable information from an educational record of a student applies to any kind of nondirectory information (e.g., performance in class, grades, attitude, motivation, abilities, background) conveyed in writing, in person, or over the telephone to third parties. Written permission is required to divulge this information.

Written Consent

Students may release their academic records to their parents, a prospective employer, insurance companies, etc., by providing written consent. The notice of written consent must include the following information:

  • it must specify the records to be released (transcripts, etc.)
  • state the purpose of the disclosure
  • identify the party or class of parties to whom disclosure may be made, and
  • be signed and dated (within the last calendar year) by the student

Disposal of Student Educational Records

Any document containing personally identifiable information must be disposed of properly through some means of confidential disposal.

Penalties for FERPA Violations

The Family Policy Compliance Office Reviews and investigates complaints of violations of FERPA. Penalties can include the withdrawal of Department of Education funds.

For further detail or specific questions, please call the Office of the Registrar.