What is FERPA?


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) helps protect the privacy of student education records. The Act provides for the right to inspect and review education records, the right to seek to amend those records and to limit disclosure of information from the records. The intent of the legislation is to protect the rights of students and to ensure the privacy and accuracy of education records.

What rights does FERPA afford students with respect to their education records?

  • The right to inspect and review their education records within 45 days of the day the college receives a request for access.
  • The right to request an amendment to the student's education records that the student believes is inaccurate or misleading.
  • The right to consent to disclosures of personally identifiable information contained in the student's education records, except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without consent.
  • The right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by the college to comply with the requirements of FERPA.

One exception which permits disclosure without consent is disclosure to school officials with legitimate educational interests. A school official is a person employed by Grinnell College in an administrative, supervisory, academic or research, or support staff position (including law enforcement unit personnel and health staff); a person or company with whom the college 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, or assisting another school official in performing his or her tasks.

A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibility.

Who is protected under FERPA?

Students who are currently enrolled or formerly enrolled at Grinnell regardless of their age or status with regard to parental dependency. Students who have applied but have not attended Grinnell and deceased students do not come under FERPA guidelines.

Parents of students termed as "dependent" for income tax purposes may have access to the student's education records. A copy of the parent's most recent Federal Income Tax return, where the parents declared the student as a dependent, must be submitted to document "dependency."

What are education records?

With certain exceptions, an education record is any record

  1. from which a student can be personally identified and
  2. maintained by the college.

A student has the right of access to these records.

Education records include any records in whatever medium (handwritten, print, computer files, CD-ROM, etc.) that are in the possession of any school official, including faculty and staff members. This includes transcripts or other records obtained from a school in which a student was previously enrolled.

Is a letter of reference an educational record?

Most students waive their rights to see the information that is written about them; if they have not done so, what is written becomes part of their education record and they have the right to review it and even challenge it. Advisers frequently must disclose educational information about students in letters of reference. On most reference forms students will authorize the disclosure of non-directory information (see below) about them. Students' permission (ideally in writing) for disclosure of this information is essential.

What is not included in an education record?

  • sole possession records or private notes held by school officials that are not accessible or released to other personnel,
  • law enforcement or campus security records that are solely for law enforcement purposes and maintained solely by the law enforcement unit,
  • records relating to individuals who are employed by the institution (unless contingent upon attendance),
  • records relating to treatment provided by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or other recognized professional or paraprofessional and disclosed only to individuals providing treatment (such records are covered by another Federal Statue, HIPPA),
  • records of an institution that contain only information about an individual obtained after that person is no longer a student at that institution, i.e., alumni records.

What is directory information?

Institutions may disclose information on a student without violating FERPA if it has designated that information as "directory information." At Grinnell this includes a student's:

  • name
  • address
  • telephone number
  • e-mail address
  • photograph
  • date and place of birth
  • major field of study
  • concentration
  • dates of attendance
  • current enrollment status (full-time/part-time)
  • participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • receipt or non-receipt of a degree
  • most recent educational institution attended
  • academic awards received

Who may have access to student information?

  • The student and any outside party who has the student's written request.
  • School officials (as defined by the college) who have "legitimate educational interests."
  • Parents of a dependent student as defined by the Internal Revenue Code.
  • A person in response to a lawfully issued subpoena or court order, as long as the college has made a reasonable attempt to notify the student first. Normally, the college will comply with a subpoena after two weeks have elapsed from the day the subpoena was received.

A student wants to keep some directory information private; how can this be done?

A student can choose to suppress, or limit public disclosure of, his or her directory information by going to the Student Affairs office.

When is the student's consent not required to disclose information?

When the disclosure is:

  • to school officials (defined in policy) who have a legitimate educational interest,
  • to federal, state, and local authorities involving an audit or evaluation of compliance with educational programs,
  • in connection with financial aid; this includes Veterans' benefits,
  • to organizations conducting studies for or on behalf of educational institutions,
  • to accrediting organizations,
  • to parents of a dependent student,
  • to comply with a judicial order or subpoena,
  • in a health or safety emergency,
  • releasing directory information,
  • releasing the results of a disciplinary hearing to an alleged victim of a crime of violence.

How does computerized record-keeping impact FERPA?

The same principles of FERPA that apply to paper records also apply to electronic data.

Where should I go if I have a question about FERPA?

Grinnell College publishes students' rights with regard to their education records in the Student Handbook. When questions arise, staff and advisers should consult this online information or call the Vice-President for Student Services or Registrar of the College.

Where do I go to file a complaint?

The right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by the college to comply with the requirements of FERPA. The name and address of the office that administers FERPA is:

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202-5901

Updated 07/26/2010