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Forum Guide to Protecting the Privacy of Student Information: State and Local Education Agencies

Section 1: An Overview

Students and their parents entrust schools with their personal information with the expectation that this information will be used by the schools to serve the needs of the students effectively and efficiently. School districts maintain and use personal information for a variety of educational purposes while students are in school. To protect the privacy of students and their families, school staff are legally and ethically responsible for safeguarding the information collected about and from students.

Many federal and state laws and regulations related to maintaining and releasing student information must be followed; however, school districts and schools need additional policies and procedures to guide everyday operations. Since schools and districts vary in how they collect and maintain information about students, the types of policies and procedures also vary. This document provides examples of policies and procedures as well as guidelines for deciding what is needed to ensure the privacy of student information.

This document is intended to provide a general overview of privacy laws and professional practices related to the information collected for, and maintained in, student records. It should not be considered an authoritative interpretation of any law or policy. Specific questions about student record confidentiality should be referred to the appropriate legal or administrative agents.

Section 1 presents an overview of the principles related to the privacy of student information, explains key concepts, defines important terms, and describes the uses and organization of this document.


  • Explain basic concepts of privacy and their underlying assumptions
  • Define key terms used in this document
  • Present brief overview of this document

Key Points and Definitions

  • Strong federal statutes protect the privacy rights of students and their families. These statutes encompass education records kept in electronic and paper media.
  • Agency and school personnel are legally and ethically obliged to safeguard the confidentiality of student data.
  • Federal and state privacy statutes pertaining to students build on the concepts of common law and constitutional provisions that imply privacy guarantees.
  • The underlying important concepts include notification, disclosure, and informed written consent.
  • Education records means records, files, documents, and other materials that contain information directly related to a student and that are maintained by education agencies or institutions, or by individuals acting on behalf of the agencies.
  • Personal or individual information refers to information about a single individual.
  • Personally or individually identifiable information reveals an individual’s identity.
  • Confidentiality refers to an obligation not to disclose or transmit information to unauthorized parties.
  • Privacy reflects an individual’s freedom from intrusion.
  • Security refers to technical procedures that ensure only authorized and intended parties have access to data.
  • Disclosure includes permitting access to, revealing, releasing, transferring, disseminating, or otherwise communicating all or any part of any individual record orally, in writing, or by electronic or any other means to any person or entity.
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) defines parent as a natural or adoptive parent, a legal guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of the parent or guardian. The rights under FERPA transfer to the student (“eligible student”) when he or she reaches 18 or attends a postsecondary education institution at any age.
  • Within this publication, an agency or school refers to the entity that collects, maintains, uses, and releases information from education records.