'FERPA' And Confidentiality Of Student Records

Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2010 4:52 pm

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974(FERPA) as amended, also known as the "Buckley Amendment", provides that schools must follow certain procedures with regard to students' records. In sum, FERPA establishes three rights for students:

  • the right to inspect and review education records maintained by the college;
  • the right to seek to amend education records; and
  • the right to have control over the disclosure of information from education records.

It is the third point in which advisers will have most direct interest. As the student's adviser you will have access to a good portion of the student's education record (grades, etc.). Detailed information about what defines a student's education record can be found in the "Student Records" section of the Student Handbook. In order to avoid accidentally violating FERPA, faculty advisers should:

  • not share student educational record information, including grades or grade point averages, with other faculty or staff members at the College unless their official responsibilities identify their "legitimate educational interest" in that information for that student.
  • not share by phone or correspondence information from student educational records, including grades or grade point averages, with parents or others outside the institution, including letters of recommendation, without written permission of the student. Refer inquiries from parents to the Dean for Student Success and Academic Advising, x3702.
  • refer inquires from anyone outside the college seeking information about a student to the Office of the Registrar, x3450 or Student Affairs, x3700.
  • not provide anyone with a student's schedule or assistance with finding a student on campus. Refer inquiries to Student Affairs, x3700, or Campus Security, x4600.

There are two common dilemmas here for advisers: parental inquiries and letters of recommendation. Parents: When a parent declares their son or daughter on their federal taxes as a dependent they may, according to FERPA, have access to the student's education record without the student's express permission. This is the minimum required under the law, but colleges may have their own procedures. Release of academic information without the student's permission is done by a strict procedure at Grinnell; this procedure is administered by the VP for Student Affairs, Houston Dougharty. In most cases, when parents request information about their children, they begin with a question about the student's grades but the quickly shift to an underlying concern (e.g., Parent: "How is John doing in your course this semester?" Faculty: "What is your concern? What are you hearing from him?" Parent: "Well, John has seemed despondent on the phone lately. Does he strike you as homesick?"). Sometimes parents simply want to express a concern and find out what resources are available on campus. It is a good idea to listen to them and reflect on what they're saying. If they press for academic information, let them know you would like to bring the student into the conversation. Then contact the student about the perceived problem and see if he or she feels a need to have you share information back with the parent or if the student will talk with his or her parent directly. Frequently, this resolves the issues at hand. If parents still want access to their son's or daughter's education record or if the concern sounds urgent or dangerous, refer the parents to the Dean for Student Success and Academic Advising or the Vice-President for Student Affairs. Letters of Reference: Advisers frequently must disclose educational information about students in letters of reference. On most reference forms students will have authorized you to disclose information about them. Students' permission (ideally in writing) for disclosure of this information is imperative. Most students waive their rights to see the information you write; if they have not done so, what you write becomes part of their education record and they have the right to review it and even challenge it. The College publishes students' rights with regard to their education records in the Student Records section of the Student Handbook. When questions arise, students and advisers should consult this online information or call Houston Dougharty, Vice-President for Student Affairs.