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What is FERPA?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act - also known as the Buckley Amendment (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) - is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records (i.e. “those records, files, documents, and other materials that …contain information directly related to a student; and are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by any person acting for such agency or institution.” (1:6, 1998, LRP Publications)  FERPA applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. (1:4, 1998, LRP Publications) It states: No one outside the institution shall have access to students’ education records nor will the institution disclose any information from those records without the written consent of student.  There are exceptions, such as allowing certain personnel within the institution with legitimate educational interest to view the records, or releasing in an emergency in order to protect the health or safety of students or other persons.

Authorization to Release Records to a Third Party

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Request Form

Parental Access to Children’s Education Records

When a child turns 18, or starts attending college or any postsecondary institution, parents lose their FERPA rights.  This means parents have no inherent rights to examine a student’s education records.  This may be difficult to understand since some students may still be the financial (and perhaps legal) responsibility of their parents.  Nevertheless the law is clear to this point.

Spousal Access to Student’s Education Records     

So far, a spouse is considered an unrelated third party as far as FERPA is concerned and has no rights with respect to the education records of his spouse. (2:4, 1998, LRP Publications)

What is Considered Directory Information? 

“… Directory information is information that ‘would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed ’” ( 7:48 , 1998, LRP Publications).  As outlined by FERPA at 20 U.S.C . § 1232g; (a) (5) (A) , Spelman College has established the following as directory information:

  • Name
  • Enrollment status
  • Major field of study
  • Classification (such as sophomore or junior)
  • Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • Weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • Dates of attendance
  • Degrees and awards received
  • Photographs/video/digital images

    The Act also states that each student has the right to inform Spelman College that any or all of the information is not to be released.  In order to withhold release of directory information, a student can notify the Registrar’s Office by the 1st day of class of each year enrolled, by filling out an Information Disclosure Request Form.   Graduates are cautioned that they may not wish to leave before revoking their order to withhold directory information or the College will not be able to confirm graduation status to potential employers making inquiries. 

What is your Responsibility as a Spelman Employee?  

In accordance with FERPA regulations, only “…college officials who have been determined to have legitimate educational interest in accessing …student records…have a right to review without student consent.”  ( 7:15 , 1998, LRP Publications) As a Spelman employee, your job places you in a position of trust and you play a crucial part in ensuring that student information is handled correctly. Students have the right to expect that their education records are being treated with the care and respect that you would want for your own records.

The confidentiality, use, and release of these student education records are governed by FERPA. Your use of this information is governed by the regulations and the duties and responsibilities of your employment and position.

In general, all student information must be treated as confidential. Even public or "directory information" is subject to restriction on an individual basis. Unless your position involves release of information and you have been trained in that function, any requests for disclosure of information, especially from outside Spelman, should be referred to the Registrar’s Office or the Vice President of Student Affairs.   Inappropriate release of information contained on a student's record without the written consent of the person identified on the document is in violation of Sec. 438 Public Law 90-247. ( 7:15 , 16, 1998, LRP Publications)

What is your Responsibility as a Student Employee or Student on a Committee?

At Spelman some offices are able to extend job opportunities and work experience to supplement students' finances and education. In doing so, the student employee is placed in a unique position of trust since a major responsibility of offices is the security and confidentiality of student records and files.  ( 7:17 , 1998, LRP Publications) Conduct either on or off the job could affect or threaten security and confidentiality of this information; each student employee is expected to adhere to the following:

  1. No one may make or allow illicit use of any information in files maintained, stored or processed by the office in which they are employed.
  2. No one is permitted to seek personal benefit or to allow others to benefit personally by the knowledge of any confidential information, which has come to them by virtue of their work assignments.
  3. No one is to exhibit or divulge the contents of any record or report to any person except in the conduct of their work assignments and in accordance with College policies and procedures.
  4. No one may knowingly include or cause to be included in any record or report a false, misleading entry. No one may knowingly expunge, or cause a valid data entry to be expunged from any record or report.
  5. No official record or report, or copy thereof, from the office where it is maintained may be removed except in the performance of a person's duties.
  6. No one is to aid, abet, or act in conspiracy with another to violate any part of this code, and
  7. Any knowledge of a violation must be immediately reported to the person's supervisor.

Your Responsibility as a Student Serving on a Committee

Students serving in an official capacity on College committees have been designated as school officials and must adhere to the same policies of confidentiality and security as all school officials and employees. ( 7:16 , 17, 1998, LRP Publication)

Other Important Points to Remember    

  • Picture identification should be checked when releasing education records. Also always check to ensure that the student permitted disclosure of information before you release any information on the student.
  • Spelman College records, both visually and audibly, many campus events and daily activities such as classes, Commencement, convocations, student events and other public occasions. These images, as well as other information about students, may be published (e.g., print media, Spelman’s website, external media and news sources) regularly as part of the College’s coverage of campus life and portrayal of the College to a variety of audiences.
  • Discussing a student's record with any person who does not have a legitimate education interest is a violation of FERPA. This pertains to conversations on and off the job. 
  • Removing any student’s education information - in any form - from the office for non-business purposes is a violation of FERPA. 
  • Releasing confidential student information (non-directory) to another student, College, organization, or any person who does not have a legitimate educational interest, or to the parents of a dependent student without the student's written authorization is in violation of FERPA. 
  • Leaving reports or computer screens containing confidential information in view of others who do not have a legitimate educational interest in the data or leaving your computer unattended while connected to Spelman’s network is in violation of FERPA. 
  • Making personal use of student information is in violation of FERPA. 
  • Allowing another person to use your computer access code is in violation of FERPA. 
  • Putting paperwork in the trash with a student's information (i.e. social security number or grades) is also in violation of FERPA. 
  • In addition to the possibility of personal litigation, proven FERPA violations may result in loss of federal funds to Spelman College. 
  • Violation of confidentiality and security may lead to appropriate personnel (employee or student) action.

Questions? Concerns?

If you have any questions or concerns about what you have just read, you may visit the FERPA website for clarification and further information about FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).