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Confidentiality & Privacy Concerns Under FERPA

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

FERPA regulations are meant to keep student records private and confidential. This lesson discusses FERPA policies, and the procedures and practices institutions must follow if they're subject to FERPA.

Confidentiality and Privacy

If you don't like the notion of someone poking around in your medicine cabinet or going through your mail or checking your closet for your clothing size, you can understand why lawmakers pass regulations that protect privacy and confidentiality. In the case of FERPA--the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act--the regulations are meant to protect the privacy of students.

Confidentiality refers to the obligation not to disclose information to unauthorized third parties.

Privacy is a personal right protecting an individual from intrusion into personal information.

A student has the right to privacy regarding educational records, and the school has the duty to maintain the confidentiality of those private records. FERPA tries to prevent any old person from nosing into students' school records. It's up to schools to make sure students' records are kept confidential.

What is FERPA?

FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and it includes a variety of regulations aimed at protecting the privacy of students. All schools that receive funding from the United States Department of Education are required to know and abide by these regulations. Schools not in compliance with FERPA can face serious consequences that may include investigations and auditing, compliance implementation planning, and possibly funding sanctions. Schools, districts, or individual staff members can face the consequences of FERPA violations. The Family Policy Compliance Office is responsible for investigating these violations. Schools must have policies and procedures in place to ensure that student privacy is upheld. All school staff should be trained to comply with FERPA.

Student Records

Under FERPA, parents or students have the right to access and maintain some control over the disclosure of a student's educational records. When students are minors, only legal custodial parents or guardians have this right of access and control of FERPA-protected records. These guardians can be identified by court documentation and by the dependents filed on a tax return. The right transfers from parents to student when a student turns 18 or begins college.

The educational records covered under FERPA refer to any documentation or files, including digital, video, audio, handwritten, or print media. Any services related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are also confidential and protected by FERPA. Health records such as immunizations or visits to the nurse's office can fall under the protection of FERPA because they are directly related to the student and maintained by the school or a representative of the school.

Exceptions

Some exceptions as to what can be considered student records protected by FERPA may be:

  • Those excluded as treatment records protected by HIPAA ( Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
  • Personal notes made by teachers in the student educational record.
  • Law enforcement records created and maintained by a law enforcement agency for the purpose of criminal justice are not protected by FERPA.
  • Notes about students created by teachers and shared with no one else are not protected by FERPA.
  • Information used as a memory aid for the teacher are similarly not protected by FERPA.

Schools are also allowed some discretion and flexibility about which identifying information can be kept confidential based on the potential for harm or invasion of privacy. Directory information includes the names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, attendance dates, and awards. If a school chooses to disclose directory information about a student, it must publicly announce this intention in a notice to students and parents, and provide an opportunity to refuse consent to this disclosure in whole or in part.

Notification

Parents and students must be notified annually of school FERPA policies, making sure the notification also accommodates those who have a disability or are non-native English speakers. This annual notification should include:

  • Information that helps parents and students understand that they have the right to review their child's record and inspect it for accuracy.
  • Provide the process for attempting to fix any inaccuracies found in the record.
  • The right to withdraw consent to disclose directory information.
  • Instructions on how to file a FERPA compliance grievance with the Department of Education.

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