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Privacy of Student Records
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records and which gives families the right to inspect and review educational records and to request that inaccuracies be corrected. (Its counterpart in healthcare is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act -; HIPAA.) The law applies to schools that receive funds under any program administered by the United States Department of Education, which includes all public elementary, middle, and high schools, and most colleges and universities. Most private and parochial schools at the elementary and secondary levels do not receive such funds and are therefore not subject to FERPA.
Parents have rights under FERPA until their child turns 18 years old or until their child attends school beyond the high school level, at which time the rights transfer to the student. However, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes, schools may release information to parents after the student turns 18 without the consent of the student.
In general, a school can only release information from a student’s education record with written permission from the parent or student over age 18. There are certain circumstances where written permission is not required, such as when a student is transferring to another school, in connection with financial aid, when required by the juvenile justice system, or for audit and evaluation purposes. Additionally, student data which has had personally identifying information removed may be shared in certain circumstances.
If a parent or student requests to inspect educational records, the school must comply with the request within a reasonable period of time, not to exceed 45 days. The school cannot unnecessarily delay opening the records for inspection before any Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, a due process hearing or resolution meeting, or a disciplinary meeting. If the records contain information on more than one student, the parent or student may inspect, review, or be informed of only the specific information within the records for the student of the requesting family. FERPA does not require schools to provide copies of educational records, unless it is impossible for the parent or student to view the records in person. If a school does provide copies, it may charge a reasonable fee.
If a parent or student believes there is an inaccuracy in the records or that the records are misleading, they have the right to request that the school records be corrected or clarified. If the school does not amend the record voluntarily, the parent or student (over age 18) may request a formal hearing. If after the hearing the school still chooses not to amend the record, the parent or student has the right to place a statement within the record regarding the contested information.
FERPA does not protect all information within student records. For example, schools may disclose "directory" information, including students'names, addresses, phone numbers, and dates of attendance, as long as the parents are given the opportunity to opt-out. Schools may also disclose honors and awards a student receives and activities and sports a student participates in.
Schools must notify parents and students each year about their rights under FERPA. There is no requirement of how families be notified, and letters, announcements in bulletins or handbooks, or newspaper articles are all sufficient.
If a family believes a violation of FERPA has occurred, the family may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. The Family Policy Compliance Office will investigate and review complaints. Complaints must be timely, generally within 180 days of the alleged violation or discovery of the violation. Families of students in special education may also follow special education dispute resolution procedures.