2012-10-05 / Columnists

Your Life And Privacy

Back To School, Back To FERPA
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US

If your nosy neighbor works at your kid’s school, can she check his transcript and tell the entire neighborhood his grades? Can a principal who’s mistaken your child for a troublemaker write harmful comments in his record without you ever knowing?

Not if the school is acting in compliance with your privacy rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).

Parents and “eligible students” (students who have turned 18 or are attending a post-secondary school) should be aware of this important federal law that protects the privacy of educational records. FERPA gives parents and eligible students rights of access to their records, an opportunity to request changes, and control over the disclosure of information.

FERPA applies to all schools that receive funding from the US Department of Education. This includes virtually all public schools and most private and public colleges and universities. (Private and parochial elementary and secondary schools generally do not receive funds from the Department of Education and thus are not subject to FERPA, but state education laws are applicable.)

Under FERPA, parents or eligible students have the right to inspect a student’s educational record. Schools are not required to furnish copies unless inperson review is unrealistic. The school may charge a fee for copies.

Parents or eligible students have a right to request that the school correct an inaccurate or misleading record; they have a right to a hearing if the school declines. If after the hearing the school still refuses to make the change, the parent or eligible student has the right to place a statement setting forth their viewpoint within the record.

In order to release information from a student’s educational record, such as a transcript, schools generally must have written permission. However, there are exceptions, including for disclosure to school officials who have a “legitimate educational interest”; to schools to which a student is transferring; in cases of health and safety emergencies; to appropriate parties in connection with a student’s financial aid application; to state and local juvenile justice system authorities; and to comply with a court order or subpoena.

Schools may also disclose, without consent, “directory” information, such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, and dates of attendance. However, schools must advise parents and eligible students that this directory information will be disclosed, and give them a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not make disclosure.

Under FERPA, opting out of directory information is all or nothing: a parent cannot pick and choose what information to include. However, individual schools can set their own policies to allow partial opt-out.

Schools must provide annual notification of FERPA rights.

A private right of action to bring suit does not exist for a FERPA violation. However, an aggrieved parent or eligible student may file a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office. For more information, visit: http://www2. ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/paren ts.html;andhttp://www2.ed.gov/ policy/ gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/students.html.

Know and exercise your educational privacy rights!

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