Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA)
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (also called the Buckley Amendment) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records.
What Is FERPA?
Educational records as defined by FERPA are those records, with certain exceptions, that are maintained by the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh, which include a student’s name or students’ names on them. These include files, documents and materials in any medium (i.e., electronic, handwritten, print, tapes, film, microfilm, microfiche) which contain information directly related to students and from which students can be individually identified.
What Is Directory Information?
Directory information is information contained in an educational record that would not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released.
Directory information at State University of New York College at Plattsburgh includes, but is not limited to:
- Student’s name, address and telephone listing
- Electronic mail address
- Date of birth
- Major field of study
- Dates of attendance
- Grade level
- Enrollment status (e.g., undergraduate or graduate; full time or part time)
- Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
- Photos of students
- Weight and height of members of athletic teams
- Degrees, honors and awards received
- Most recent educational agency or institution attended.
Social Security numbers, student identification numbers (i.e., Banner ID), race, ethnicity, nationality and gender are NEVER considered directory information and may not be released.
- Students & Parents
Can I Protect My Directory Information?
Students have the right to prevent disclosure of any or all of their directory information. Those students who wish confidentiality must notify the registrar in writing.
The registrar will flag the student’s record on Banner so that other computer users will see a confidentiality warning when the student’s record is accessed electronically. State University of New York College at Plattsburgh assumes that failure on the part of any student to specifically request in writing the withholding of categories of directory information indicates individual approval for disclosure.
Once confidentiality is requested, the student is responsible for informing the registrar of any changes to that request.
What Student Information can be Released Without My (the Student’s) Consent?
The law allows disclosure without consent to:
- University employees with a legitimate educational “need to know.”
- Appropriate agencies determining a student’s eligibility, amount or conditions of financial aid, or to enforce the terms and conditions of aid.
- Parents of a student over the age of 18 and still a dependent (as defined by IRS Code of 1954, Section 152).
- Certain government officials of the U.S. Department of Education, the comptroller general, state and local educational authorities in connection with an audit, authorized representatives of the attorney general for law enforcement purposes or state and federally supported education programs.
- University officials who need to know in regards to disciplinary action taken against a student.
- Persons who need to know in cases of emergency to protect the health and safety of the student or other individuals.
- State and local authorities of the juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific state law.
- Alleged victim of a crime of violence, with regards to the outcome of a disciplinary proceeding relating to that crime.
- Parent or legal guardian of a student under the age of 21, regarding any violation of university policy or state, federal or local law governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.
- Those persons seeking directory information providing the student has not requested confidentiality.
With few exceptions provided by law, only directory information may be released to any outside source not officially connected to State University of New York College at Plattsburgh.
No further information will be released without the written consent of the student. Absolutely no transcript will be released outside the college without the student's signed authorization. No information concerning a student’s grades will be released over the telephone.
The student’s written consent is not required for the disclosure of grades, disciplinary action and other information to parents who have established that student’s status as dependent (IRS Code of 1954, Section 152). If proof of dependency is not available in the student’s financial aid records, parents requesting information must request in writing and submit proof of legal dependency, or provide written consent from the student.
FERPA Annual Notice to Reflect Possible Federal and State Data Collection and Use 5/24/2012
As of January 3, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s FERPA regulations expand the circumstances under which your education records and personally identifiable information (PII) contained in such records — including your social security number, your grades, or other private information — may be accessed without your consent. First, the U.S. comptroller general, the U.S. attorney general, the U.S. secretary of education, or state and local authorities (“Federal and State Authorities”) may allow access to your records and PII without your consent to any third party designated by a federal or state authority to evaluate a federal- or state-supported education program. The evaluation may relate to any program that is “principally engaged in the provision of education,” such as early childhood education and job training, as well as any program that is administered by an education agency or institution. Second, federal and state authorities may allow access to your education records and PII without your consent to researchers performing certain types of studies, in certain cases even when we object or do not request such research. Federal and state authorities must obtain certain use restriction and data security promises from the entities that they authorize to receive your PII, but the authorities need not maintain direct control over such entities. In addition, in connection with Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, state authorities may collect, compile, permanently retain and share without your consent PII from your educational records, and they may track your participation in education and other programs by linking such PII to other personal information about you that they obtain from other federal or state data sources, including workforce development, unemployment insurance, child welfare, juvenile justice, military service, and migrant student records systems.
Students (or eligible parents) have the right to inspect and review the student's educational records. The college is not obligated to provide copies of the records, unless distance or other circumstances make it impossible for the student or parents to view the records in person. The college may charge a fee for copies.
Students do not have a right to see financial information submitted by parents; confidential letters and papers related to admissions, employment, job placement or honors to which a student has waived the right of inspection and review; or educational records that contain information about other students such as grades or test scores.
FERPA & Parents
All rights to student educational records transfer from parents to student when the student reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the secondary level. Parents may access student records if the student is claimed as a dependent for federal income tax purposes.
Under such circumstances access is granted to both parents, whether or not both are claiming. If neither parent claims the student as a dependent, parents may have access only if the student is willing to release the information. Such a release must be made in writing to the registrar’s office.
Students’ Right to File a Complaint
Any student alleging failure of the college to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act may file a complaint with:
Family Policy Compliance Office U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-4605
Penalties for Violating FERPA Regulations
The Family Policy Compliance Office reviews and investigates complaints of violations of FERPA. If the office finds that there has been a failure to comply with FERPA, it will notify the institution about the corrections that need to be made to bring the institution into compliance. The office will establish a reasonable period of time for the institution to voluntarily accomplish the specified changes.
If the secretary of education finds, after this reasonable period of time, that an institution has failed to comply with FERPA and determines that compliance cannot be secured by any means, he can, among other options direct that no federal funds under his administrative control (financial aid, education grants, etc.) be made available to that institution.
Parental Access to Student’s Educational Record
When a student reaches the age of 18 or begins attending a postsecondary institution, regardless of age, FERPA rights transfer from the parent to the student.
Parents must obtain a signed consent from their child to receive non-directory information. The Office of the Registrar keeps that consent on file. Should a parent contact you regarding his or her student, you must check for this authorization prior to releasing that information. If the authorization does not exist, you must not discuss the student with their parent and advise the parent that their student must give us written authorization before you are allowed to do so.
What Is an Educational Record?
Just about any information provided by a student to the university for use in the educational process is considered a student educational record:
- Personal information
- Enrollment records
Student educational records may be:
- Documents in the student record’s office
- Computer printouts in your office
- Class list on your desktop
- Computer display screen
- Notes you have taken during an advisement session
Posting of Grades by Faculty
The public posting of grades either by the student’s name or social security number without the student’s written permission is a violation of FERPA. This includes the posting of grades to a class website and applies to any public posting of grades for students taking distance education courses.
Instructors and others who post grades should use a system that ensures that FERPA requirements are met. This can be accomplished either by obtaining the student’s written permission or by using code words or randomly assigned numbers that only the instructor and individual student should know.
Notification of Grades via a Postcard Violates a Student’s Privacy Rights
Notification of grades via e-mail to non-college email addresses is not recommended. There is minimal guarantee of confidentiality on e-mail. The institution would be held responsible if an unauthorized third party gained access, in any manner, to a student's educational record through any non-secure electronic transmission method.
Letters of Recommendation
Statements made by a person making a recommendation that are made from that person’s personal observation or knowledge do not require a written release from the student. However, if personally identifiable information obtained from a student’s educational record is included in the letter of recommendation (grades, GPA, etc.), the writer is required to obtain a signed release from the student which:
- Specifies the records that may be disclosed
- States the purpose of the disclosure
- Identifies the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure can be made
If this letter is kept on file by the person writing the recommendation, it would be part of the student's education record and the student has the right to read it unless he or she has waived that right to access.
Sample Letter of Recommendation:
I give permission to Prof. Smith to write a letter of recommendation to: Allstate Insurance 324 Wilkins Drive Atlanta, GA 33011. Prof. Smith has my permission to include my GPA and grades. I waive (or do not waive) my right to review a copy of this letter at any time in the future. Signature/Date
Nothing in FERPA allows an institution to discuss a student’s educational record publicly, even if a lawsuit has made the information a matter of public record. A school official may not assume that a student's public discussion of a matter constitutes implied consent for the school official to disclose anything other than directory information in reply. Additionally, university employees should follow university policy regarding the release of information to the media. The official spokesperson for the university is the Director of Communications/Institutional Advancement.
Legitimate Educational Interest
What is “legitimate educational interest?” In accordance with FERPA, a school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his/her professional responsibility. This includes such purposes as:
- Performing appropriate tasks that are specified in her/his position description or by a contract agreement
- Performing a task related to a student’s education
- Performing a task related to the discipline of a student
- Providing services for the student or the student's family, such as health care, counseling, job placement, or financial aid
What Is NOT “Legitimate Educational Interest?”
Legitimate educational interest does not convey inherent rights to any and all student information. The law discriminates between educational interest, and personal or private interest; determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. Educational interest does not constitute authority to disclose information to a third party without the student’s written permission.
Special “DON’TS” for Faculty
To avoid violations of FERPA rules, DO NOT:
- At any time use the entire Social Security number of a student in a public posting of grades
- Ever link the name of a student with that student’s Social Security number in any public manner
- Leave graded tests in a stack for students to pick up by sorting through the papers of all students
- Circulate a printed class list with student name and Social Security number or grades as an attendance roster
- Discuss the progress of any student with anyone other than the student (including parents) without the consent of the student
- Provide anyone with lists of students enrolled in your classes for any commercial purpose
- Provide anyone with student schedules or assist anyone other than university employees in finding a student on campus
Official FERPA Policies
- The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99)
- SUNY Plattsburgh Statement of Policy