What is FERPA and What Should You Know?
In the United States, there are many ways in which the federal, state and local government impacts the public education your child will receive.
Some of these laws and regulations you may be familiar with, and some you may not. One such protection is the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA.
By definition, FERPA, passed in 1974, is a federal law that protects the private nature of a student’s educational records. It applies to all schools that receive funding within an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.
The U.S. Department of Education states, “FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.”
This is unknown to many parents, especially those of college-aged students.
Sandra Mohr, Dean of Academic Resources and Administration at the New England College of Optometry says, “In a college setting, parents often call and want information about their child or their record. Most college students are over the age of 18 and are now covered under this law.”
Essentially, this means that parents (despite the fact that many are contributing or even covering the higher education costs) can not have access to information such as grades and attendance unless their over-18 child decides to share this with them.
Mohr adds, “This can be very frustrating for parents if they are trying to pay a bill for their child or assist them in navigating through the college experience.”
It’s imperative that parents understand this to avoid frustration and surprise once a child is enrolled in college or is even over 18 in high school.
“Parents should know what their rights are to accessing information and keeping their child’s information safe and accurate,” Mohr says. “As parents transition from being in control to letting their child take on adult responsibilities, the access to information changes and can cause frustration if they don’t understand how the laws adapt to help make children into successful independent adults.”
Here is the specific language used and the protections provided by FERPA, directly from the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Remember, “When a student turns 18 years old or enters a post-secondary institution at any age, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student (‘eligible student’).”
- Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student’s education records maintained by the school. Schools are not required to provide copies of records unless reasons exist, such as great distance. Otherwise, it is impossible for parents or eligible students to review the records. Schools may charge a fee for copies.
- Parents or eligible students have the right to request that a school corrects records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student then has the right to a formal hearing. After the hearing, if the school still decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student has the right to place a statement with the record setting forth his or her view about the contested information.
- Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record. However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31):
- School officials with legitimate educational interest;
- Other schools to which a student is transferring;
- Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
- Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
- Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
- Accrediting organizations;
- To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
- Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
- State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law.
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