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Compliance and Ethics

FERPA Frequently Asked Questions

FERPA QUESTIONS

  • Are there any federal laws relating to student records?
  • What is the definition of a student’s educational record under FERPA?
  • What documents are not considered to be part of a student’s educational record?
  • When is a student’s consent not necessary before disclosing his or her educational record to a third party?
  • How may a student give consent to the release of his or her educational record to a third party?
  • May a faculty member discuss a student’s grades and academic progress with a student’s parent?
  • What should a faculty member do if a student asks for a reference to be provided to an employer or to another institution?
  • What is the process for disclosing a student’s own education records to the student?
  • What is the process for disclosing education records to others?
  •  What is the process for disclosing education records pursuant to a subpoena or court order?
     
  • What recordkeeping requirements exist for requests and disclosures under FERPA?
  • Does FERPA protect the education records of former students?
  • Does FERPA protect the education records of deceased students?
  • What is the time frame for responding to a request for education records under FERPA?
  • May the University charge a fee for providing copies of education records?
  • May students give valid consent using an electronic signature?
  • What is directory information that may be released without consent?
  • What is directory information for a student who has left the University?
  • May a student request that directory information not be disclosed?
  • May the University release records relating to work study students?
  • Other than access, do students have other rights regarding their education records?

Are there any federal laws relating to student records?

Yes. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA") of 1974, a federal statute, establishes rules and regulations regarding access to and disclosure of a student’s educational record. 

What is the definition of a student’s educational record under FERPA?

FERPA defines a student educational record to include all records maintained by the institution that directly relate to a current or former student. FERPA's broad definition includes any information recorded in any way including, but not limited to, handwriting, print, computer media, video or audio tape, film, microfilm, and microfiche.

What documents are not considered to be part of a student’s educational record?

Documents that are not considered student records would include:

an administrator’s or faculty member’s own notes that are used only by that individual and are not shared with anyone else except as a temporary substitute;
records maintained by the institution’s law enforcement unit that were created by that unit for the purpose of law enforcement;
records that relate exclusively to the individual’s capacity as an employee (exception does not apply to employee as a result of status as a student worker);
medical, psychiatric, or psychological records that relate to a student’s treatment and are generally not available to anyone other than persons providing such treatment;
records containing only information about a student created or received after he or she is no longer a student at the institution and that are not directly related to his or her attendance at the University (e.g., alumni records); and
grades on peer-graded papers before they are collected and recorded by a teacher. 


When is a student’s consent not necessary before disclosing his or her educational record to a third party?

Prior consent is not required to disclose information to the following:

other school officials within the institution with a legitimate educational interest;
organizations conducting services or functions on behalf of the institution (if certain criteria are satisfied); officials of another school where the student seeks or intends to enroll (providing certain criteria are satisfied);
in connection with financial aid for which the student has applied or received if the information is necessary for those purposes set forth in the law;
to organizations conducting studies on behalf of the University; accrediting organizations; the parents of a dependent student (as defined by the Internal Revenue Code);
a person who obtains a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena directing release of the information; appropriate individuals during a health or safety emergency;
a person requesting directory information; an alleged victim of a crime of violence or non-forcible sex offense committed by a student regarding the results of any disciplinary action;
and the parents of a student disciplined for certain drug or alcohol offenses if at the time of the disclosure the student is under 21 years of age. .

How may a student give consent to the release of his or her educational record to a third Party? 

Students may consent through an online form available on the Registrar’s website and designated as "Parent/Authorized User Portal".

The following link shows screenshots of what is seen in the portal. http://www.usm.edu/sites/default/files/groups/office-registrar/pdf/ferpa_parent_portal_documentation.pdf

By completing such an authorization, the student grants the third party (which could be their parent), access fo the following academic and financial records and said access can be removed at any time:

  • academic class schedule
  • academic record
  • grades
  • admission status
  • financial aid
  • payments on student accounts (to view and make)
  • biographical information 
  • general academic information

By completing and submitting this form, a student gives permission for educational records and information to be disclosed to a parent, guardian, or other designated individual(s). Request for information should be directed to the relevant department, such as the Registrar’s Office, the Business Services Office, or the Office of Financial Aid. 

In addition to accessing the Registrar’s website in the manner described above, you can also download the “Student Consent for Release of Education Records" directly.

May a faculty member discuss a student’s grades and academic progress with a student’s parent?

Generally, a parent is not automatically entitled to obtain access to a child’s educational records.  The rights that a parent had in the elementary and secondary school context are automatically transferred to a student once that student turns eighteen years of age or is attending a postsecondary educational institution.

An educational institution may exercise its own discretion and provide access to a parent of a college student if the child is a “dependent” under the Internal Revenue Code; however, an institution is not required to disclose information from the student’s educational record to the parents of a dependent student. To avoid determining dependency, it is usually easier for the student to complete a consent form authorizing the release of this information to a parent. 

What should a faculty member do if a student asks for a reference to be provided to an employer or to another institution?

The faculty member will need a release from the student if the faculty member is going to give an oral or written reference on behalf of a student that includes information derived from education records protected by FERPA.
Material that is often addressed in letters of recommendations (e.g., GPA, courses, class performance) is considered part of a student’s educational records. In such cases, written consent from the student should be obtained before providing a reference, and the consent should specify educational information to be shared. If the faculty member provides a generic written reference directly to the student for the student to disseminate, no release is required. For a copy of letter of reference that you can have students sign, see https://www.usm.edu/faculty-development/resources.php

 
What is the process for disclosing a student’s own education records to the student?

You should review the student’s files to identify information that the student is not entitled to receive and remove that information prior to releasing the records to the student.

In addition to containing records and information relating to the requesting student, some educational records contain personally identifiable information relating to other students. Information relating to other students should be redacted or removed prior to releasing the records. 

What is the process for disclosing education records to others?

  • Initially, you should determine if the requesting party may access the records either because the student has given his written consent or because consent is not necessary due to one of the limited circumstances described above.
  • Upon a determination that release is appropriate, you should review the file for information which the requester is not entitled to receive and remove that information from the file.
  • You should disclose the education records on the condition that the requester may not re-disclose the information to someone else without the written consent of the student.
  • Finally, you should comply with all recordkeeping requirements for requests and disclosures. If you are not satisfied that you are familiar with the requirements of FERPA as such relates to the disclosure of educational records to others, you are encouraged to contact the Office of General Counsel for discussion and guidance before releasing such records.

What is the process for disclosing education records pursuant to a subpoena or court order?

After receiving a subpoena or court order for education records, record the time and manner of service (mail, personal service, or another manner) on the document.  After gathering information responsive to the subpoena or order that is within your control, review the material and remove information that the requester is not entitled to receive.  Thereafter, forward the subpoena or order together with responsive material to the Office of General Counsel via secure means (not via email).  The Office of General Counsel will notify the student of the subpoena or order, unless the subpoena directs otherwise, and afford the student sufficient time to go to court and contest the subpoena.  You should comply with all recordkeeping requirements concerning requests and disclosures.   For more information about subpoenas, see the Court Papers FAQ.

What recordkeeping requirements exist for requests and disclosures under FERPA?

FERPA requires that an educational institution maintain a record of each request for access to and each disclosure of personally identifiable information from the educational record of each student. The record, which should be maintained with the education records of the student, should include the parties who requested or received personally identifiable information from the education records and the legitimate interests the parties had in requesting or obtaining the information. These recordkeeping requirements do not apply when the request was from or the disclosure was to the following individuals: a parent or student, a school official with a legitimate educational interest, a third party with written consent from the student, court orders or subpoenas, or a party seeking directory information. 

Does FERPA protect the education records of former students?

Yes. FERPA protects the education records of former students. 

Does FERPA protect the education records of deceased students?

No. You may, however, require that the person requesting the deceased student’s records provide documentary proof that the student is, in fact, deceased. 

What is the time frame for responding to a request for education records under FERPA?

FERPA does not provide a specific time period for responding to a request; however, you should promptly respond to the request. However, if the information is sought through a subpoena, the University must provide the subject of the record sought sufficient time to contest the subpoena prior to releasing any information. If the release of educational records of a student  is sought by means of a subpoena or court order, the request should be forwarded to the Office of General Counsel for review. 

May the University charge a fee for providing copies of education records?

The University may charge a fee for copies but not for employee time to search for or to retrieve the education records. 

May students give valid consent using an electronic signature?

The Department of Education has now recognized that educational institutions have moved into the digital age by amending its regulation implementing FERPA. No specific form of electronic signature is required. A signed and dated consent under FERPA now may include a record and signature in electronic form that (1) identifies and authenticates a particular person as the source of the consent; and (2) indicates the person’s approval of the information contained in the electronic consent. 

What is directory information that may be released without consent?

Directory information may include the following: the student’s name, address, telephone listing, electronic mail address, photograph, major field of study, classification, enrollment status, dates of attendance, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, degrees and awards received, and the most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student. Each institution making public this information is required to give annual notice to its current students of the categories of information which it has designated as directory information. For the University’s most current designation of directory information and related information, please see http://www.usm.edu/registrar/directory-information. 

What is directory information for a student who has left the University?

FERPA allows an institution to disclose directory information (as it is defined when the request for the information is made) about former students without going through the notification process for those former students. 

May a student request that directory information not be disclosed?

Yes. A student may request that a school withhold his information by completing the appropriate form. The form is available in the registrar's office. 

May the University release records relating to work study students?

Records relating to work study students are considered educational records protected by FERPA. 

Other than access, do students have other rights regarding their education records?

Students have a right to challenge the content of their records and seek amendment of these records if they feel the records are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the student's privacy rights. If they are dissatisfied with the results of their challenge, a student may request a hearing. After a hearing, if the educational institution decides that the information is inaccurate, misleading or in violation of a student’s privacy rights, the educational institution shall amend the record accordingly and inform the student of the amendment.  If the educational institution decides that the information is not inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the privacy rights of the student, it shall inform the student of the right to place a statement in the record commenting on the contested information in the record and stating why he disagrees with the decision. Students may not use this process to challenge a grade (except for clerical errors). Students also have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education if they believe their rights under FERPA have been violated.

 

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