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FERPA Quick Facts

The Mystery of FERPA - what is it and why must I comply?


What is FERPA?

  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974
  • Also known as the Buckley Amendment
  • Provisions to protect student record information

Why Comply with FERPA?

  • It's a federal law enforced by the Family Policy Compliance Office of the U.S. State Department of Education
  • Failure to comply could result in the withholding of federal funds including student financial aid
  • Lawsuits caused by violations cost time and money
  • University employees may be disciplined for intentional violations of the Act

Rights Granted to Students by FERPA

  • Inspection and review of their own education records
  • Petition amendments to records
  • Some control over the disclosure of information from their records

Who is and is not covered under FERPA?

  • Students who are or have been in attendance at a post-secondary institution are covered under FERPA
  • Applicants who are denied admission or who never attend are not covered under FERPA [Note: some information submitted in an application (ie. test scores, grades, social security numbers, etc.) should remain protected from disclosure]

When do FERPA rights begin for a student?

  • When the student reaches the age of 18 or begins attending a post-secondary institution, whichever comes first
  • If the institution does not define "in attendance", the law stipulates FERPA rights begin the first day the student attends class

What are Education Records?

  • All records that directly relate to a student and are maintained by an institution
  • These records may be in any media form: handwritten, print, type, film, electronic, etc.
  • Conversations with the student and personal observations of student behavior are not "private"

What information might need to be handled in a secure way?

  • Registration forms
  • Grades and Transcripts
  • Student information displayed on a computer screen
  • Student schedules
  • Class assignments
  • Class rosters
  • Any electronic or paper document with the student's ID or grade(s) on it

Education Records are not:

  • Sole Possession Notes - kept by faculty/staff member and not accessible to any other person
  • Department of Public Safety Records - maintained solely for law enforcement purposes and revealed only to law enforcement agencies
  • Employment Records - of those whose employment is not contingent upon student status
  • Student Medical Records - created by health care professional and disclosed only to other health care professionals for the medical/health treatment of the student
  • Alumni Records - containing information about a student no longer in attendance

What information may be released?

  • Directory Information
  • Information for which the student has given written release
  • Information needed by a U of U employee who has a legitimate educational interest
  • Information needed by certain government agencies

What is "Directory Information"?

  • Information that may be released without the student's written consent, unless the student restricts disclosure
  • Each institution, to some extent, determines what information is classified as directory information

Directory Information at the University of Utah includes:

  • Student Name, address, or telephone number
  • Student ID Number
  • Class standing
  • Field of study
  • Participation in officially recognized activities or sports
  • Weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • Dates of attendance
  • Degrees and awards received
  • Most recent previous educational agency or institution attended
  • E-mail address
  • Enrollment status
  • Photograph

Student (and former student) Rights under FERPA

  • Students have a right to know where education records are kept
  • Students have a right to inspect their education records
  • Students have the right to seek to have records amended if necessary
  • Students have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education if they feel their rights have been violated
  • Students have the right to expect that their education records are kept confidential except where special provisions are made
  • Students have the right to suppress the disclosure of directory information to outside agencies and third parties

Who can access student information?

  • University of Utah employees who have a legitimate educational interest
    • Legitimate Educational Interest: a school official's need to review student educational information to fulfill a professional responsibility
  • Others who are performing a function on institution's behalf who have a legitimate educational interest

Parents' ability to access student information (not a "right")

  • Parents may obtain directory information, provided the student does not have a FERPA restriction
  • Parents may obtain non-directory information by acquiring a signed release from their child
  • Existence of a signed consent does not constitute a "power of attorney" empowering parents to act on behalf of the student

Employees Take Note:

  • Access to student information via Campus Information Services or other computer software does not authorize unrestricted use of that information
  • Curiosity is not a valid reason to view student information
  • Parenthood is not a valid reason to view student information on one's son or daughter
  • Records should only be used in the context of official business

More Important Information:

  • When in doubt, don't give it out
  • Requests for student academic information should be referred to the Registrar's Office
  • Information about a student can be released with a signed consent from the student
  • Information on a computer should be treated with the same confidentiality as a paper copy
  • Do not leave confidential information displayed on an unattended computer
  • Cover or put away papers that contain confidential information when stepping away from your desk
  • Records containing SSNs/Student IDs/Names and/or grades should always be shredded, not just thrown in the garbage or recycling

Special Hints for Faculty to Avoid FERPA Violations - They should not:

  • Use the SSN/Student ID/Student Names to post grades
  • Leave graded tests (electronically or in print) for students to sort through
  • Circulate class lists with student names and SSN/Student IDs (electronically or in print)
  • Provide anyone with student schedules
  • Provide anyone with lists of students enrolled in your classes
  • Include confidential information (ie, grades, number of credits, etc) in a recommendation letter without the written consent of the student
Last Updated: 8/31/21