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Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA (20 U.S.C. §1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a federal law that is administered by the Student Privacy Policy Office (SPPO) in the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA protects “education records,” which are generally defined as records that are directly related to a student and maintained by an educational agency or institution, or by a party acting for the agency or institution. FERPA applies to all schools that receive funding under any program administered by the Department of Education.

FERPA provides certain rights for parents regarding their children’s education records. When a student reaches 18 years of age or attends an institution of postsecondary education at any age, the student becomes an “eligible student,” and all rights under FERPA transfer from the parent to the student.

• Under FERPA, a school or state educational agency (SEA) must provide an eligible student with an opportunity to inspect and review their education records within a reasonable period of time, but not more than 45 calendar days following the receipt of a request.

• FERPA’s access provisions apply to education records maintained by educational agencies or institutions, including documents such as academic transcripts. While eligible students have a right to inspect and review their education records, including academic transcripts maintained by their schools, eligible students do not necessarily have a right to obtain a copy of such records under FERPA.

• Under FERPA, an eligible student has the right to seek amendment or correction of their education records that the eligible student believes to be inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of their rights of privacy. However, while a school is not required to amend an education record in accordance with an eligible student’s request, a school is required to consider the request for amendment, to inform the student of its decision, and, if the request is denied, to advise the student of their right to a hearing on the matter. If, as a result of the hearing, a school decides not to amend the education records, then the eligible student has the right to insert a statement in the record commenting on the contested information or stating why they disagree with the decision, or both. That statement must remain with the contested part of the education record for as long as the record is maintained and be included whenever the contested part is disclosed.

• Under FERPA, a school generally may not disclose personally identifiable information from an eligible student’s education records to a third party unless the eligible student has provided prior written consent. There are several exceptions to FERPA’s general consent requirement, some of which are described below.

  • School officials, including faculty and staff, with legitimate educational interest. A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill their professional responsibility;
  • Other schools to which a student seeks or intends to enroll;
  • 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.

FERPA also permits a school to disclose information from an eligible student’s education records, without consent,
when such information has been appropriately designated as “directory information,” and the eligible student has not
opted out of the disclosure of such designated information. The FERPA regulations define “directory information” as information in a student’s education record that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. Directory information may include information such as the student’s name, address, telephone number, email address, photograph, date and place of birth, major field of study, grade level, enrollment status (e.g., undergraduate or graduate, full-time or part-time), dates of attendance (i.e., the period of time during which the student attends or attended the school), participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, degrees, honors and awards received, and the most recent school attended. 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, district website or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.

Complaints of Alleged Violations of FERPA

Eligible students who believe that their FERPA rights may have been violated may file a complaint with SPPO at SPPO will review the complaint to ensure that the complaint:

  • Is filed, in writing, by an eligible student who maintains FERPA rights over the education records that are the subject of the complaint;
  • Is submitted to SPPO within 180 days of the date of the alleged violation or of the date that the eligible student knew or reasonably should have known of the alleged violation; and
  • Contains specific allegations of fact giving reasonable cause to believe that a violation of FERPA has occurred.

SPPO will then make a case-by-case determination of the best mechanism for resolving the complaint. Sometimes
the action will be an investigation, while for other complaints, consistent with the statute and applicable regulations,
we will take other appropriate actions, such as acting as an intermediary or providing resolution assistance. More
information regarding our complaint process is available at