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Forum Guide to the Privacy of Student Information
NCES 2006-805
July 2006

Disclosure of Student Information

Generally, schools must have written parent (or eligible student) permission to release any information from a student's education records. However, in addition to properly designated "directory information," FERPA allows disclosure, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (except as noted, conditions are listed in 34 CFR § 99.31):

A legitimate educational interest

School officials with a "legitimate educational interest" may access student records under FERPA. Generally, this refers to individuals in the school district who need to know information in the student's education record, in order to effectively perform their professional responsibility. Interest in students that "fit" a profile or category is not a legitimate educational interest. The school's criteria for appropriate "school officials" and valid "legitimate educational interest" must be included in the annual notification to parents of their FERPA rights. A sample notice of rights, including suggested language can be found at the Family Policy Compliance Office's website.

Other schools into which a student is transferring or enrolling

Schools that submit a records request or in which a student has enrolled are eligible to receive information from that student's education records. This includes postsecondary institutions to which the student are applying. A parent (or eligible student) may also request a records transfer.

Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes

This category exception refers to federal, state, and local education agencies that must collect data or student information to audit, evaluate, or enforce educational programs. State agencies other than those responsible for education are not included. This exception is commonly used by state education agencies to justify state-level student records systems.

Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid

Information required to determine student eligibility for financial aid, the amount of aid to award, and the conditions under which aid is to be granted may be disclosed under this category; access to information needed to enforce those terms and conditions is also allowed. This exception typically applies to postsecondary institutions.

Organizations conducting certain studies for, or on behalf of, the school

The purpose of the study conducted for, or on behalf of, a school has to be to: develop, validate, or administer predictive tests; administer student aid programs; or improve instruction. Even if these conditions are met, the school may only disclose information if: the study methodology does not permit the personal identification of parents and students by anyone other than the researchers and their representatives; the information is not used for any purpose other than to complete the study; and the information is destroyed when it is no longer needed for the stated purposes of the study.

Accrediting organizations

Disclosure of personal information is permitted to an accrediting organization if it is needed to carry out the accreditation.

Judicial orders or lawfully issued subpoenas

Schools must release information requested by a judicial order or legal subpoena. However, the school must make a reasonable effort to notify the parent (or eligible student) in advance of compliance, unless the court or other issuing agency has ordered that the contents of the subpoena not be disclosed, or that the protected education records not be included. [34 CFR § 99.31 paragraph (a)(9)(1)]

Health and safety emergencies

Disclosure to appropriate officials is valid if the information contained in the education record is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals. (34 CFR § 99.36)

State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific state law

If state law permits, schools may release information to state and local juvenile justice authorities after receiving written certification that the information will not be disclosed to any other agency, organization, or third party without the parent's permission, except as allowed in state law.

In all of the above cases, education agencies or institutions disclosing personally identifiable information from an education record must do so on the condition that the party receiving the information will use it only for the purpose for which it was disclosed, and will not disclose the information to another, third party without prior consent. An exception is allowed if the disclosure is made on behalf of the education agency or institution under the permitted disclosures in FERPA. (34 CFR § 99.33)