The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.
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. Students to whom the rights have transferred are "eligible students."
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, for reasons such as great distance, 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 correct 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.
Schools may disclose, without consent, "directory" information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. 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. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.
For additional information, you may call 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327) (voice). Individuals who use TDD may use the Federal Relay Service. Or you may contact us at the following address:
Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-8520
Disclosure of Information from Education Records to Parents of Students Attending Postsecondary Institutions
Recently many questions have arisen concerning the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the federal law that protects the privacy of students’ education records. The Department wishes to clarify what FERPA says about postsecondary institutions sharing information with parents.
What are parents’ and students’ rights under FERPA?
At the K-12 school level, FERPA provides parents with the right to inspect and review their children’s education records, the right to seek to amend information in the records they believe to be inaccurate, misleading, or an invasion of privacy, and the right to consent to the disclosure of personally identifiable information from their children’s education records. When a student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age, these rights under FERPA transfer from the student’s parents to the student. Under FERPA, a student to whom the rights have transferred is known as an “eligible student.” Although the law does say that the parents’ rights afforded by FERPA transfer to the “eligible student,” FERPA clearly provides ways in which an institution can share education records on the student with his or her parents.
While concerns have been expressed about the limitations on the release of information, there are exceptions to FERPA’s general rule that educational agencies and institutions subject to FERPA may not have a policy or practice of disclosing “education records” without the written consent of the parent (at the K-12 level) or the “eligible student.”
When may a school disclose information to parents of dependent students?
Under FERPA, schools may release 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.
Can a school disclose information to parents in a health or safety emergency?
The Department interprets FERPA to permit schools to disclose information from education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their son or daughter.
Can parents be informed about students’ violation of alcohol and controlled substance rules?
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 or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.
Can a school disclose law enforcement unit records to parents and the public?
Additionally, under FERPA, schools may disclose information from “law enforcement unit records” to anyone – including parents or federal, State, or local law enforcement authorities – without the consent of the eligible student. Many colleges and universities have their own campus security units. Records created and maintained by these units for law enforcement purposes are exempt from the privacy restrictions of FERPA and can be shared with anyone.
Can school officials share their observations of students with parents?
Nothing in FERPA prohibits a school official from sharing with parents information that is based on that official’s personal knowledge or observation and that is not based on information contained in an education record. Therefore, FERPA would not prohibit a teacher or other school official from letting a parent know of their concern about their son or daughter that is based on their personal knowledge or observation.
How does HIPAA apply to students’ education records?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a law passed by Congress intended to establish transaction, security, privacy, and other standards to address concerns about the electronic exchange of health information. However, the HIPAA Privacy Rule excludes from its coverage those records that are protected by FERPA at school districts and postsecondary institutions that provide health or medical services to students. This is because Congress specifically addressed how education records should be protected under FERPA. For this reason, records that are protected by FERPA are not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule and may be shared with parents under the circumstances described above.