What student information can be disclosed and to whom: FERPA basics- Part 1

FERPA is a federal law protecting the privacy of student educational records. There are many instances when an institute can release student records without consent. This article highlights directory information, institutional officials and financial aid.

FERPA is a Federal law that is administered by the Family Policy Compliance Office in the U.S. Department of Education. All schools who receive funds as part of the Department of Education are required to comply with Family Education Rights and Privacy Act Guidelines regarding disclosure of information. Parochial and private schools at the elementary and secondary levels generally do not receive such funding and are, therefore, not subject to FERPA.

Schools may not disclose personal student information without consent. Michigan State University Extension lists some examples of information that may not be disclosed include social security number, ethnicity, grades and enrollment records. However, schools may disclose, without consent, what is termed "directory" information.

Directory information is information in a student’s education record that may be disclosed to outside organizations without a student’s prior written consent. Directory information includes student's name, address, telephone number, email, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. It also includes a laundry list of other school related information. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.  Students or parents must formally request that their directory information not be shared with outside sources.

However, FERPA does allow schools to disclose student records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions:

School officials with legitimate educational interest- Schools are required to inform parents and eligible students of how it defines the terms "school official" and "legitimate educational interest” in its annual notification of FERPA rights. 

Other schools to which a student is transferring- Schools may make the disclosure to other schools if it has included in its annual notification of rights a statement that it forwards education records in such circumstances.

Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student- Schools may disclose information if it is necessary to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid, determine the amount of aid, determine the conditions for aid or enforce the terms and condition of financial aid given.

All schools who receive funds as part of the Department of Education are required to notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual format can be determined by each school. It may be posted on a website, sent in a special letter, included in a school bulletin or be included in a school handbook.

Additional disclosure guidelines on FERPA will be highlighted in future articles apart of this series. Michigan State University offers a downloadable PowerPoint presentation entitled, What Every MSU Student Should Know.

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