Questions and Answers/FERPA

 
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Student Records:  Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

This document provides a summary of the law in this area and answers questions frequently asked of attorneys in the Office of University Counsel.  However, the information presented here is intended for informational purposes only and nothing in this document should be construed or relied upon as legal advice.  You should refer to official University policy or consult with the Office of University Counsel regarding the specific facts and circumstances associated with any legal matter.

Student Records:  Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, known as "FERPA," (20 U.S.C. 1232g; 34C.F.R. Part 99) governs access to student education records maintained by educational institutions, including Temple University.  FERPA's purpose is to protect the privacy of students and to ensure that students have access to their own records.  Under FERPA, the presumption is that a student's records are private and not available to the public without the consent of the student.  

Temple University has developed a policy pertaining to student privacy rights.  It is entitled Policy on Confidentiality of Student Records.  Temples policy may differ in some regards from federal law.  For information about FERPA that is specific to Temple University students or alumni, please click here.

DEFINITIONS

Education records.  FERPA protects from disclosure "education records," broadly defined to include all records directly related to a student and maintained by an educational institution or someone acting on its behalf (e.g., contractors).

NOTE: Student disciplinary records are included within the definition of education records.  However, the definition excludes several other types of information including:

campus law enforcement records (if certain criteria are met);
certain "desk drawer" or personal notes;
certain medical treatment records; and
alumni records containing information obtained after a student's graduation.

Student.  FERPA defines "student" broadly to include any individual who has attended an educational institution at any time and about whom the institution maintains records.

Directory information.  Directory information is defined as information that would generally not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed, such as:

name;
address (e-mail or other);
telephone number; and
degree received.

NOTE: Social Security numbers are not considered directory information.

Students must have notice of what the institution considers directory information and an opportunity to object to disclosure of all or part of the proposed directory information.  Because each student has the individual right to object, all student files should be checked for disclosure limitations before directory information is compiled and made available.

ACCESSING EDUCATION RECORDS

Student access to the student's own education records.  Students generally may access their own education records, except for the following information:

parent financial records (often submitted as part of a financial aid application);
confidential letters of recommendation (under certain circumstances); and
information about another individual included in the student's records.

The institution must remove such information before providing records to the student, unless it obtains consent from the subject of the information or from the author of the letters of recommendation.

Parental access to student education records.  Generally speaking, parents of students presently or formerly enrolled at Temple University may not access student education records without student consent, except in limited circumstances.

Public access to student education records.  Generally, FERPA's protection means that the public cannot access a student's education records without that student's valid consent.

Valid student consent.  A student's valid consent means an informed, written consent that:

specifies the records to be disclosed;
states the reason for disclosing the records; and
identifies the person(s) to whom disclosure may be made.

Disclosures permitted without consent.  An institution may disclose student education records without the student's consent in limited circumstances.  Examples include disclosure to:

School officials with a legitimate educational interest;
Other schools at which the student seeks admission or intends to enroll (the student must have notice and certain procedures must be followed);
Organizations conducting studies on behalf of the institution (if certain criteria are met);
Accrediting organizations;
The parent of a dependent student;
A person who obtains a judicial order or subpoena directing release of the information (the student must be given notice of the subpoena prior to releasing information unless the subpoena directs otherwise);
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.

NOTE:  FERPA permits, but does not require, these disclosures.  When disclosure is contemplated under these provisions of FERPA, it may be appropriate to consult with counsel to apply the balancing and notification requirements of FERPA and Temple University policy.

OTHER PROVISIONS

Record of disclosures.  As part of the education record of each student, each institution must maintain a record of disclosures which contains the following information:

the names of all individuals, agencies, or organizations that have requested, or obtained, access to the student's records; and
the legitimate educational interest of those accessing the information.

However, there is no need to record:

access by the institution's own employees;
release of "directory information"; or
release of information with a student's written consent.

Notice of FERPA rights.  Institutions must notify students annually of their rights under FERPA.

Penalties for violating FERPA.  Penalties for uncorrected violations or a practice or policy of noncompliance with FERPA may include a cutoff of federal funding to the institution.

Military access to education records.  The Solomon Amendment (10 U.S.C. 982; 32 C.F.R. 216, 65 F.R. 2056) is not a part of FERPA, but it allows military organizations access to information ordinarily restricted under FERPA for the purpose of military recruiting.  Specifically, the Solomon Amendment permits Department of Defense entities to physically access institutional facilities to recruit students, and to obtain students' names, addresses, phone numbers, age, class, and degree program once every term.  The Solomon Amendment only applies to enrolled students over age 17.  

Institutions that violate the Solomon Amendment risk loss of funding from several federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor.  If a component of the institution violates the Solomon Amendment, larger system funding may be affected. 

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  Temple University Office of University Counsel
300 Sullivan Hall, 1330 W. Berks Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122-6086
Phone: 215-204-6542, Fax: 215-204-5804
For web related questions email: universitycounsel@temple.edu