History of the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA)

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

This lesson will provide information about the history of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA amendments will also be discussed and a brief explanation of their purpose will be given.

A Call for Action

In the early 1800's, schools and universities in New England starting keeping educational records, a practice which soon spread nationwide. What started as a practice of keeping general records and attendance for each student, gradually grew more and more detailed. There were no guidelines in place on who could access these records, and no one anticipated the potential misuse of information this practice could lead to.

By the early 1970's, almost anyone with a badge could obtain personal and academic records of students. Oftentimes, the files contained medical and mental health information, which could result in a student being removed from one program and being placed into a program for children with special needs. This could take place without so much as notifying a student's parents or guardians. Parents also had no recourse to disagree or challenge comments in students' files, because they were considered permanent records. Comments in files were often personal observations made by educators that were highly subjective and many times without medical warrant.

In the immediate aftermath of Watergate and President Nixon's resignation, the American public had a distrust of government, and there was an urgent outcry for increased transparency. It was out of this public outcry that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act also known as FERPA, was born.

FERPA sought to limit access to student educational records and protect the privacy of student academic and personal information. Let's look at FERPA in more detail by first examining the history behind the act and how it was amended over time.

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