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

Section 5: Commonly Asked Questions

Q. Can students review their own records?

A. FERPA permits schools to afford minor students rights in addition to those given to parents. In addition, once a student is 1 8 years old, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student. If a person is granted the legal status of an emancipated minor, that individual has access to his or her own record, but under FERPA, this does not remove the parents’ rights unless action is taken by a court to do so. Most states define an emancipated minor as a minor who has the power and capacity of an adult. When the student attends a postsecondary institution, even if he or she is under 18 years of age, the student may review the record in the postsecondary institution.

Q. Besides the annual notification of FERPA rights, what else does a school or district need to do annually?

A. Schools or districts need to tell parents at the beginning of the school year if policies change, and give parents a chance to opt out of having their student’s directory information released. See section 6B for a discussion of releasing directory information. In addition, the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) requires that school districts or schools annually notify parents of their rights under PPRA and of the school’s policies regarding obtaining consent or allowing parents to opt their child out of participating in certain school activities (such as a survey containing information about religion, mental problems, etc.). Activities requiring notification and provision to opt out of participation are those involving the collection, disclosure, or uses of personal information from students to market or sell that information and any non-emergency, invasive physical examination or screening that is required as a condition of attendance. See section 2C for a detailed discussion of this aspect.

Q. How do I respond speedily to requests for reviewing student records?

A. If you establish written procedures and provide appropriate forms, you can facilitate the reviewing process and forestall frustrating delays. See section 5B.

Q. Should I authenticate requests for student information? How far do my responsibilities extend?

A. The agencies or schools releasing information are responsible for verifying the authenticity of a request. However, you will need to make a judgment call as to what precautions are sufficient. You can reduce ambiguity by creating a written policy with verification procedures. See sections 5C and D for suggestions.

Q. Can I discuss the education record of a student in front of someone the parent has brought along, such as a language interpreter or friend who sits in when I let the parent review the record?

A. Yes, you may discuss the record if the parent signs a consent form. See section 5D.

Q. Do I have to provide copies of an education record when the parents request to see it?

A. The agency or school may choose to provide copies, although this is required only when it is not feasible for the parent to review the record because of distance, illness, disability, or a lack of building accessibility. See section 5E.

Q. Must I allow a parent to make a copy of an education record?

A. No, you do not have to allow a parent to make a copy unless a failure to do so would prevent the parent from inspecting and reviewing the records. The agency or school can charge for the copies. See section 5E.

Q. Do noncustodial parents have access rights to student records?

A. Parents, custodial and noncustodial, as well as legal guardians have access to student information unless the agency or school has evidence of a court order or state law revoking these rights. Parent rights extend to surrogate parents of children with disabilities. See exhibit 5–1 for the pamphlet, “Rights of Non-Custodial Parents,” developed by the Family Policy Compliance Office of the U.S. Department of Education.

Q. What do I do if a noncustodial parent requests to amend an education record?

A. You would follow the same procedures as you would for amending records for custodial parents. See exhibit 5–1.

Q. Must I give my notes on a student to his or her parent?

A. Notes created by teachers or counselors as memory aids and not shared with anyone else except a temporary substitute are not considered education records by FERPA. Once notes are shared with other officials, they become education records. Teachers may choose not to give their notes to parents. See section 2 for the definition of an education record.

Q. What are the access rights of emancipated minors?

A. While FERPA does not specifically speak to emancipated minors, the Family Policy Compliance Office has ruled in specific cases that an emancipated minor under state law should be provided access and other rights under FERPA, but that unless a court rules so, the parents’ FERPA rights are not revoked.