When we are children, our parents usually have free access to our personal information, as we are personally and financially dependent on them. As kids, it makes sense that parents should have easy access to this information. However, as we get older, we might not necessarily want this information to be readily available. As such, there are several laws in place that limit who has access to this information, with one of the most prominent being the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.
Taking effect when a student turns 18 or joins a postsecondary institution, FERPA transfers many of the permissions that were previously granted to parents to the student themselves. It is important to understand the many protections offered by FERPA, both for the sake of knowing one’s rights and to know how to grant other people access to your information if needed.
What is FERPA?
FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.1 Most of these records fall under parent’s authority when their children are younger, but when a student turns 18 years old or begins attending a postsecondary institution at any age, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student. These rights include:2
- The right to inspect and review their education record;
- The right to seek to amend their education record;
- The right to have some control over the disclosure of information from education records; and
- Right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by IU to comply with FERPA requirements
FERPA is designed primarily to ensure that school officials do not disclose personally identifiable information about students or permit inspection of their education records without their written permission.
What are Education Records?
FERPA’s privacy requirements cover any records that are directly related to the student and maintained by the college (or a party acting for the college). This includes non-directory information such as:3
- Student’s parents or other family members;
- Student or family address;
- Student’s Social Security number, COD ID number or other identifying number;
- Student’s schedule;
- List of personal characteristics (such as gender, race, ethnicity or religion); and
- Grading or attendance information
Generally speaking, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record. However, there are certain situations where FERPA allows schools to disclose these records without consent. These include the following parties or conditions:4
- 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.
What Can Be Disclosed Without a Student’s Consent?
Under normal circumstances, any directory information can be disclosed without a student’s written consent, as it is freely available to the public. Such information includes the student’s:
- College-issued email address
- Major field of study
- Participating in officially recognized activities and sports
- Weight and height of members of athletic teams
- Terms attended
- Enrollment status (full or part time student)
- Degrees and awards received
- Last educational institution attended by the student
However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Students have the right to request that this information be withheld by contacting the Office of Student Records and completing proper documentation.5
FERPA Release Forms
Under FERPA, parents do not automatically have the right to view their child’s records with their express consent. However, a student may grant their parents (or any other third party) permission to access their education records by filling out a FERPA release form. This can sometimes be done electronically, though some universities require students to fill out the form in person to ensure its authenticity.
Regardless, if a student wants their parents to continue to have free access to their education records as they did before they turned 18, they should fill out a release form. Once the student has given prior authorization to access the information, this permission remains in place unless the situation changes. Additionally, if a student no longer wishes for someone to access their records, they can fill out a revocation form, which revokes access.
Knowing Your Rights
While FERPA does have its limits, it is valuable for guaranteeing the protection and confidentiality of student education records. There are of course situations where you would want to grant others access to this information though, so it is important to both know what information of yours is protected and how you grant others access.
1. U.S. Department of Education. (2020, December 15). Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). U.S. Department of Education. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html.
2. U.S. Department of Education.
3. Purdue University Northwest. (2021, June 18). FERPA. Purdue University Northwest Registrar. https://www.pnw.edu/registrar/ferpa/.
4. U.S. Department of Education.
5. U.S. Department of Education.