A FERPA Primer

A FERPA Primer

Every day, questions arise over a student's right to privacy, particularly about the confidentiality of grades. The following information should provide guidance for faculty, staff, and students regarding FERPA.

In 1974, Congress enacted the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act--known as "FERPA"--and things changed. The Act imposes on any school, college or university that receives federal funds, restrictions over the release of student records. Since this includes the Maricopa Community Colleges, the district has adopted policies that comply with FERPA requirements.

Students at any of the Maricopa Community Colleges or centers may have access to their own educational records. This includes nearly all information maintained by the college or center, which is directly related to the student. In most cases, an educational record that's "directly related to a student," consists of grades, registration, financial aid, and attendance information. Students who are attending college classes on college campuses or online are the owners of their educational record, regardless of their age. Prior to any disclosure of information from the student’s educational record, the student  must give written permission for the disclosure, identifying to whom the disclosure is to be made, what documents are to be disclosed, and for what purpose the documents are to be disclosed.

FERPA protects a student's educational record, regardless of how the record is maintained and who maintains it. An educational record consists of paper as well as electronic and video graphic data. Besides grades, it typically includes registration information, financial aid documents, test scores, comments, evaluations and similar assessments about a student, maintained by an instructor, counselor or any other school official.

FERPA prohibits any person connected with the institution--including administrators and faculty--from improperly disclosing student information.

At institutions of higher education, students may authorize the release of their educational records--but only the student has the exclusive right to decide whether or not to authorize the release, which means—in most cases—even a student's parent may not demand the release of the student's educational record.

Moreover, students' access to their own educational records--as well as the right to limit disclosure of those records--continues even after they graduate or otherwise leave the institution.

There are some circumstances however where educational records may be released without a student's permission. For instance, records may be disclosed to other school officials--including teachers, within the institution--whom the institution has determined to have legitimate educational interests.

An institution may also release educational records in response to either a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena, after first providing the student with reasonable notice of the order or subpoena so the student may seek court protection stopping the disclosure. Under limited circumstances, records may be released to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency--but only if the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.

Occasionally, a school official may be asked, or volunteer, to write a letter of recommendation on behalf of a student. This usually wouldn't require the student's written release or authorization. But if the letter includes information that falls within FERPA's definition of educational records--such as grade point average or class ranking--the student's consent to include such information would be necessary.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) is charged with enforcing FERPA and it has created a detailed complaint procedure for those who feel an institution has violated their FERPA rights. It's important, then, for anyone with access to students' educational records, to use professional judgment when sharing such records. Information about the FPCO can be found at: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/index.html

To ensure that student records are not accessible to other students or unauthorized individuals, instructors and other school officials should exercise caution in the way student records are maintained.

In the past, publicly posting grades or test scores on bulletin boards or an office door was common practice. But under FERPA, this practice is prohibited. The Act does not allow posting grades associated with a student's name or social security number. Even using a student-identity code in such postings isn't advised, since the code could be deciphered by others.  Additionally, passing around a class roster for attendance taking purposes or calling roll from a list of students registered for the class constitute a FERPA violation because the student’s registration is a protected educational record.  Faculty members can send around a blank sheet of paper for students to sign-in for attendance purposes.

If you receive a request for a student's educational records from anyone other than the student, forward the request to the admissions and records department.

The staff there can best determine how to respond while honoring FERPA protections to preserve the confidentiality of the student's educational records.

If you have questions or would like additional information about FERPA, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.

Page Updated 07/13/18