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

1.C. Important Terms

Education Record

According to FERPA, a record means any information recorded in any way, including, but not limited to, hand-writing, print, computer media, videotape or audiotape, film, microfilm, and microfiche. An education record, sometimes referred to as a student record, may include a variety of details about a student, such as the date of birth, date of enrollment, bus route, immunization history, achievement test scores and grades, enrollment and attendance, awards, degrees achieved, and special education plans and evaluations. Personal notes by teachers or other staff, kept in the sole possession of the maker, used only as a personal memory aid, and that are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute, are not subject to FERPA. A record of a student may be maintained in more than one location within an agency or school (e.g., enrollment record in the schoolís administrative office and health information in the school health clinic).

Information included in an education record is collected primarily from the student (or family members), teachers, and other school staff. It may also be collected from other sources outside the school, such as health care providers or testing companies. Personal information about students is a vital resource for teachers and school staff in planning responsive education programs and services; designing individual education plans; scheduling students into appropriate classes; planning school bus routes; and completing reports for local, state, and federal authorities. In emergencies, the information is readily available to school officials to assist students and their families. A limited amount of this information, as defined by the school district or state, makes up a studentís permanent record or transcript.


Confidentiality refers to a personís obligation not to disclose or transmit information to unauthorized parties. Confidentiality extends to information about either individuals or organizations. In schools, districts, or state education agencies, that usually means establishing procedures that limit access to information about students or their families. This access extends to the school officials who work directly with the students, agency representatives who serve as evaluators or auditors, or individuals who act on behalf of authorized education officials.


Privacy is a uniquely personal right that reflects an individualís freedom from intrusion. Protecting privacy means ensuring that information about individuals is not disclosed to unauthorized persons without the individualís consent.

A parent or eligible studentís right of privacy is violated when personal information is disclosed to unauthorized third parties without consent. While confidentiality, defined above, refers to restricting disclosure of information to authorized individuals only, privacy refers to protection from personal intrusion.


Security refers to the process that focuses on the ďconfidentiality, integrity, and availabilityĒ (National Forum on Education Statistics 2003) of information systems and data. For the purpose of discussion in this document, security includes technical procedures that ensure only authorized and intended parties have access to data.

Parent or Eligible Student

FERPA grants parents the rights to review, request amendment to, and consent to the release of education records. A parent means a natural or adoptive parent, a legal guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of the parent or guardian. These rights transfer to eligible students when they reach 18 or when they attend a postsecondary education institution. However, parents can still have access if the eligible student is a dependent for tax purposes. When used in this document, the term parent refers to the person who is given the rights described in FERPA. FERPA defines a student as any person, who is or has been in attendance, about whom an agency or institution maintains education records or personally identifiable information.

Education Agency or Institution

In FERPA, an education agency typically refers to a state or local education agency that is authorized to direct and control public elementary or secondary or postsecondary institutions. An education institution refers to an institution or school that provides educational services or instruction, or both, to students. FERPA also refers to state or local education authorities. While not defined in FERPA, the phrase generally refers to any educational entity with authority and responsibility under state or local law for the administration of educational functions at the elementary, secondary, or postsecondary level. This includes all education agencies and institutions that are the recipient of funds under any program administered by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Throughout this document, agency or institution refers to the entity that collects, maintains, uses, and releases information from education records. This entity may be a state education agency, school district, public or private school or institution, intermediate education unit, or an institution to which funds have been available to administer an educational program for students with disabilities or work-based education programs administered on behalf of an education agency.