The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a federal law allows schools to disclose to vendors, consultants and contractors for administrative, instructional or assessment purposes (known as the “school official/contractor” exception) and/or to organizations or individuals for vaguely-defined evaluation or audit purposes, student PII without notifying parents or gaining their consent (known as the “authorized representative” exception).
Parents still have some significant rights.
- The right to inspect the information in their child’s education records, whether this data is held by the state, the local district or their child’s school.
- The right to correct information in their child’s records if there are errors. If the school, district or state agency refuses to correct the record, the parent has the right to a formal hearing. After the hearing, if the school or agency still refuses to correct the record, the parent has the right to amend the record by placing a statement into the child’s record setting forth his or her view about the contested information.
- The right to be informed as the school/district’s criteria in determining who constitutes a school official or other third party with a legitimate educational interest to whom the school/district intends to disclose personally identifiable information without parental consent.
- The right to opt out of any “directory information” about their child being made public. Directory information generally includes a student’s name, address, email, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and/or dates of attendance. Schools must tell parents about their right to refrain from having their children’s directory information shared with any third parties without prior consent.
- Opting out of a school’s directory does not prevent schools or districts from using the exceptions mentioned above to disclose personal student data under the school official, authorized representative or research provisions of the new FERPA regulations.
- The right to opt out of having their child’s name, address and telephone from being provided to military recruiters.
- The right to be informed of their FERPA rights each year by their school or district. The actual means of notification (letter, PTA bulletin, student handbook, or website) is left to the discretion of each school.
- When students turn 18 or enroll in a postsecondary institution at any age, their rights under FERPA transfer from their parents to themselves.
- Lastly, in 2002 a Supreme Court decision held that students or their parents cannot sue an educational institution for damages if the school improperly discloses the student’s protected information. Instead, schools that failed to comply with FERPA could lose their federal funding – but to this day the US Dept. of Education has never imposed a financial penalty on any agency or institution for violating FERPA.
For more information about FERPA, visit the US Department of Education website.