A Parents’ Guide to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act
A common question many parents of first-year college students ask is, “what is FERPA?” This is a very good question because although you want to support your student through their college journey; there are some important things you need to know.
FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. This law affords students’ rights in regards to their educational records. FERPA defines an educational record as:
- Date and place of birth, parent(s) and/or guardian addresses, and where parents can be contacted in emergencies;
- Grades, test scores, courses taken, academic specializations and activities, and official letters regarding a student’s status in school;
- Special education records;
- Disciplinary 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 identification code, social security number, picture, or other information that would make it easy to identify or locate a student
This includes a range of information about a student that is maintained in schools in any recorded way, such as handwriting, print, computer media, video or audio tape, film, microfilm, and microfiche.
Here are some frequently asked questions to help parents understand their student’s rights.
Frequently Asked Questions
The term “parent” is defined as including natural parents, a guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a guardian.
An “eligible student” means a student who has reached the age of 18 or who is attending a postsecondary institution at any age. Once a student becomes an “eligible student,” the rights afforded his or her parents under FERPA transfer to that student.
FERPA defines “directory information” as information contained in a student’s education record that generally would not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.
At Berea College, the following information is considered directory information:
- Name, address, telephone listing, electronic mail address, date and place of birth, dates of attendance, and grade level;
- Participation in officially recognized activities and sports;
- Weight and height of members of athletic teams;
- Degrees, honors, and awards received; and
- The most recent school attended.
Institutions must honor your request to review your student’s education records within 45 days of receiving the request. FERPA permits the school to disclose information on an eligible student when the student turns18 or enrolls in a postsecondary institution at any age. Schools may disclose any and all information to parents, without the consent of the eligible student, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes under the IRS rules. FERPA also permits a school to disclose information from an eligible student’s education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their son or daughter. Another provision in FERPA permits a college or university to let parents of students under the age of 21 know when the student has violated any law or policy concerning the use of possession of alcohol or a controlled substance. School officials may also share information with a parent about an eligible student that is based on that official’s personal knowledge or observation and that is not based on information contained in an education record.
FERPA permits institutions to disclose, without consent, personally identifiable information from students’ education records when the disclosure is in connection with a student’s application for, or receipt of, financial aid. Disclosures under this exception to consent may be made if the information is necessary for such purposes as to: (a) determine eligibility for the aid; (b) determine the amount of the aid; (c) determine the conditions for the aid; or (d) enforce the terms and conditions of the aid.
Generally yes. Unless a school is provided with evidence that there is a court order, State law, or other legally binding document relating to such matters as divorce, separation, or custody that specifically provides to the contrary, FERPA gives custodial and noncustodial parents alike certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. An institution may ask for legal certification denoting parenthood, such as a birth certificate or court order, from the parent requesting access.
Questions about the application of the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act should be directed to the Office of the Registrar or to the Office of the General Counsel.
For more information about FERPA, please contact the Family Policy Compliance Office.