Many schools release student records without the student’s consent. Here are the situations when education records can be released without the student’s consent.
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FERPA and Education Records
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds from 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.
What is FERPA?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive federal funding from the Department of Education.
Under FERPA, education records are defined as any record (including handwriting, print, computer media, video or audio tape) maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such an agency or institution that contains information directly related to a student.
FERPA gives students the right to inspect and review their education records, the right to seek to have their records amended, and the right to have some control over the disclosure of information from their records.
What are education records?
Education records are defined as any record that is maintained by a school which relates to a student and is used for educational purposes. These records can include, but are not limited to: transcripts, class schedules, disciplinary records, contact information, medical records, and standardized test scores. Education records also include so-called “directory information,” which is defined as information that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released. Directory information can include a student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance.
What are the exceptions to FERPA?
There are several exceptions to FERPA that allow school officials to share student information without prior written consent. These exceptions are:
-Directory Information: Contact information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, email address, photograph, date and place of birth, major field of study, dates of attendance, grade level, enrollment status (e.g., undergraduate or graduate, full-time or part-time), participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, degrees and awards received, the most previous educational agency or institution attended by the student and other similar information is considered directory information and can be released without prior written consent unless the student has opted out of disclosure.
-School Official with a Legitimate Educational Interest: School officials are permitted to access student education records if they have a legitimate educational interest in the records. A school official is defined as a person employed by the University in an administrative, supervisory, academic or research capacity; a person or company with whom the University has contracted (such as an attorney, auditor or collection agent); a person serving on the board of trustees; or a student serving on an official committee such as a disciplinary or grievance committee. A school official also includes a volunteer who performs services for the school without compensation including medical personnel such as doctors and nurses; public safety personnel; and persons providing administrative services within specific programs under contract who have access to usage statistics but do not have access to students’ names or other personal identifiers.
-Health/Safety Emergency: In emergency situations where knowledge of a student’s education records is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals it may be released without prior written consent. The emergency situation must present a threat to the life or safety of an individual in order for records to be released under this exception; it cannot merely be inconvenient for school officials. Also note that this exception only allows for disclosure to persons who have a legitimate interest in knowing about the emergency situation – it does not allow for disclosure to media outlets or others not directly connected with providing assistance during the emergency situation.
When Can Education Records Be Released?
Education records can be released without consent in some cases, such as if the release is required by law or if the student has waived their right to privacy. Records can also be released with consent, such as when a student grants permission to a school to release their records to a third party.
With consent from the student
Education records can only be released to third parties with the consent of the student, unless the release falls under one of the exceptions described in FERPA.
The consent must be in writing and signed by the student. The written consent must:
-Specify the records that may be disclosed.
-Identify the parties who may receive the disclosable information from the records.
-State the purpose of the disclosure.
-Be signed and dated by the student.
A student may revoke their consent at any time, in writing, except to the extent that action has already been taken in reliance on the consent.
When the student is over 18 years of age
When the student is over 18 years of age, education records can be released without the student’s consent, unless the student has requested that the records be kept confidential.
For directory information
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) generally prohibits the improper disclosure of personally identifiable information (PII) from an education record. However, FERPA permits the disclosure of PII from students’ education records without consent under certain circumstances, including for directory information.
Directory information is defined as information contained in an education record of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. An educational institution may disclose PII from students’ education records as directory information without obtaining prior written consent from the parents or eligible student, unless the parent or eligible student has opted out of the disclosure of directory information. An educational institution must give public notice of the types of PII that it has designated as directory information.
In an emergency
In an emergency, where the health or safety of a student or other individuals is at stake, school officials may release personally identifiable information from a student’s education records without prior written consent.
In conclusion, parents or eligible students may request access to their education records, and schools must comply with these requests within a reasonable time frame. Schools may charge a fee for copies of education records, but they cannot charge a fee for simply allowing parents or eligible students to view their records. If you have questions about your rights under FERPA or would like to file a complaint, you can contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office.