Reasons for disclosing student information: FERPA basics- Part 2

There are numerous instances when an institute can release student records without consent. This article highlights FERPA regulations in regard to parents claiming students as dependents, health & safety issues, and use of records for program evaluation.

This is the second article in a series by Michigan State University Extension that provides insight into disclosure guidelines for FERPA. The Family Policy Compliance Office in the U.S. Department of Education administers the federal law FERPA. Schools that are a part of the Department of Education, who receive funds, are required to comply with Family Education Rights and Privacy Act Guidelines that deal with disclosure of information. Elementary and secondary level schools that are parochial or private generally do not receive this funding and are not subject to FERPA.

Parental access to student records
FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These include:

  • Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student's education records maintained by the school.
  • Parents or eligible students have the right to request that a school correct records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading.

These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred are deemed eligible students. However, if either parent has claimed the student as a dependent on their most recent year's income tax statement, the school may non-consensually disclose the eligible student's education records to both parents under this exception.

FERPA does not specifically afford minors who are separated from their parents the rights that are afforded to parents and eligible students under the law. However, schools may use their judgment in determining whether an unaccompanied minor is responsible enough to exercise certain privileges, such as inspecting and reviewing education records and providing consent for disclosure.

What student information can be disclosed and to whom cites the most prevalent circumstances in which a school can disclose student records. Additional parties and conditions under which FERPA does allow schools to disclose student records without consent include:

Health and safety emergencies to parents
Disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records, without consent, to appropriate parties including parents of an eligible student is admissible in connection with a health or safety emergency even if the parents do not claim the student as a dependent.

Health and safety emergencies to outside sources and officials
Schools may need to disclose information to outside parties or appropriate officials when responding to emergencies that include natural or man-made disasters. In some situations, the disclosure of directory information on students might suffice.  Disclosure is allowed if knowledge of that information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals and is limited to the period of the emergency.

Audit or evaluation purposes to specified officials
A school may disclose information to federal, state and local educational authorities for audit or evaluation of federal or state supported education programs, or for the enforcement of or compliance with federal legal requirements that relate to those programs.

Organizations conducting certain studies on behalf of the school
Disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records, without consent, is allowed for the purpose of administering predictive tests or student aid. Information can also be disclosed for the purpose of improving instruction.

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