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What is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)?

What is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)?

In 2024, the importance of privacy safeguards in education has never been more critical. But how do we ensure that the vast amounts of data educational institutions collect are safe and secure?

Enter the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a cornerstone of student privacy legislation in the United States. This federal statute doesn’t just mandate confidentiality; it enshrines the rights of students and their families to control their educational records. But what exactly does FERPA cover, and why is it so pivotal? In this article, we’ll cover what FERPA is, the rights it guarantees, and the mechanisms that enforce it.

FERPA extends specific rights to parents regarding their children’s educational records. Upon a student reaching 18 years of age or entering a postsecondary institution, these rights are transferred to the student, rendering them “eligible students.”

Who Must Adhere to FERPA?

FERPA is binding on educational institutions that receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education. This encompasses public schools, colleges, universities, private schools, and postsecondary institutions that receive federal funding. FERPA also applies to school vendors and third-party service providers that have access to student educational records. These vendors could include companies that provide services such as online learning platforms, student information systems, cloud storage providers, testing services, and educational software.

When schools contract with these vendors and their parties, they must ensure that they comply with FERPA regulations regarding the handling and protection of student educational records. This typically involves including specific provisions in contracts to safeguard the confidentiality and security of student information. Essentially, any educational institution that maintains student records must comply with FERPA.

Key Components of FERPA Rights:

a. Right to Access: Under FERPA, parents or eligible students (those aged 18 or older or attending postsecondary institutions) possess the right to access and review their educational records. Institutions must ensure access within a reasonable timeframe following a request.
b. Control of Disclosure: FERPA empowers parents and eligible students with control over the disclosure of their educational records. Generally, institutions cannot unveil personally identifiable information from a student’s record without written consent, except in specific stipulated circumstances.
c. Consent Requirements: Typically, written consent is a prerequisite before an educational institution can release a student’s education records to third parties, except for distinct exceptions elucidated in FERPA, such as directory information.
d. Directory Information: Institutions may divulge specific categories of data classified as “directory information” without securing consent. This data may encompass a student’s name, address, phone number, email, date of birth, major field of study, enrollment status, and participation in school activities. Nevertheless, students usually have the right to opt out of disclosing directory information. Schools must inform parents and eligible students about directory information and provide them with a reasonable timeframe to request that the school refrains from disclosing directory information about them.
e. Record Correction: Parents or eligible students retain the authority to request amendments to their education records if they perceive inaccuracies, misleading information, or violations of their privacy rights. Institutions must maintain records of access and disclosure requests, enabling parents and eligible students to trace who has accessed their education records.
f. Notifications: Schools are mandated to inform parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The method of notification (e.g., a dedicated letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is at each school’s discretion.

Enforcement and Penalties Under FERPA

The Student Privacy Policy Office (SPPO) plays a pivotal role in enforcement, investigating complaints filed by parents, eligible students, and other concerned parties regarding potential FERPA violations. Furthermore, SPPO offers mediation assistance to complainants and provides technical support to parents and students who suspect their FERPA rights have been infringed upon.

Potential penalties for FERPA violations, according to Department of Education training documents, may encompass:

  • Directing the institution to cease specific non-compliant practices.
  • Temporarily withholding financial support from Department of Education programs until compliance is achieved.
  • Revoking access to federal funding opportunities furnished by the Department of Education.

It is essential to recognize that these severe consequences are contemplated only when an institution obstinately refuses to collaborate with the FPCO to enhance its procedures and persistently flouts the law. Essentially, an institution would need to blatantly disregard FERPA regulations to face these more severe penalties.

How Carbide Helps You Achieve FERPA Compliance

Ensuring compliance with FERPA is crucial to avoid fines and maintain trust. Carbide enhances your organization’s readiness for regulation changes by creating a proactive compliance environment. Easily convert the complexities of FERPA compliance into manageable, thanks to automated tools that simplify the compliance process into clear, achievable tasks. Contact us today to learn more about how Carbide can lead your security strategy for frameworks like FERPA, SOC 2, ISO 27001, and more.