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FERPA: Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act

The following information describes student and parent rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA became law in 1974 and applies to schools receiving federal funds. It protects personally identifiable information contained in student education records. 

  • What rights do parents have under FERPA?

    1. PARENTS HAVE THE RIGHT to access the information in their child’s education records held by the state education department, the local district, and/or the school. The state, district, and school cannot charge parents a fee to search for or to retrieve education records, but they may apply a reasonable fee to provide copies of education records, and must provide them in a readable format within 45 days of receiving a request from parents. Note that some states have laws that require production of records within a shorter period of time. Parents may need to complete a specific form found on the state, district, or school website to access education records, or they may need to call the state, district, or school office for more information. 

    2. PARENTS CAN REQUEST to correct information in their child’s records if they believe it is “inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the privacy rights of the student.” If the school, district, or state refuses to correct the record, parents have the right to a formal hearing. If after the hearing, the school, district, or state still refuses to correct the record, parents have the right to amend the record by placing in it a statement setting forth their view of the contested information.

    3. PARENTS HAVE THE RIGHT to be informed of the school and/or district’s criteria for determining who constitutes a “school official,” or other third party with a “legitimate educational interest,” to whom the school and/or district may disclose PII without parental notification or consent.

    4. PARENTS HAVE THE RIGHT to opt out of “directory information” about their child being offered to third parties by the school or district. Directory information generally includes a more limited set of personal information that is not considered highly sensitive. Note that opting out of “directory information” does not prevent schools or districts from disclosing personal student data, often of an even more sensitive nature, to “school officials,” “authorized representatives,” or “organizations” under the exceptions noted above. 

    5. PARENTS HAVE THE RIGHT to opt out of having their child’s “contact information” provided to military recruiters. To do so, parents must submit a written request to the school. 

    6. SCHOOLS OR DISTRICTS MUST INFORM PARENTS annually of their FERPA rights. The actual means of notification is left to the discretion of each school/district.

    7. A STUDENT’S PERSONAL INFORMATION CANNOT BE INDISCRIMATELY SHARED even within the school setting. Instead, disclosure should be limited to those teachers and other school employees directly responsible for the student's education or services, who ‘need to know’ students’ information in order to be able to fulfill their professional responsibilities.

    NOTE: The rights of parents under FERPA transfer to a student who reaches 18 years old or attends a postsecondary institution (e.g., college or university), or becomes an emancipated minor under state law.

    Directory Information exception

    Directory information is a limited set of information from students’ education records that is not considered highly sensitive or an invasion of privacy if disclosed, including their names, addresses, phone numbers, date and place of birth, participation in school activities and sports, awards and recognitions, and dates of attendance. Schools may disclose students’ directory information to third parties without parental consent if public notice has been provided to parents containing the types of information designated as ‘directory information,’ a statement of a parent’s right to restrict or opt-out of its disclosure, and the period of time in which parents may exercise this right.

  • The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232h; 34 CFR Part 98) is administered by the U.S. Department of Education and was enacted in 1978. PPRA applies to the administration of student surveys, analyses, or evaluations that deal with highly sensitive issues. It also concerns marketing surveys, parental access to instructional materials, and certain physical examinations of students by schools. 

    What rights do parents have under PPRA?

    1. PARENTAL CONSENT IS REQUIRED before children are required to participate in any survey, analysis or evaluation funded by the U.S. Department of Education that concerns the following sensitive areas: • Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent; • Mental and psychological problems of the student or the student’s family; • Religious affiliations and beliefs; • Sex behavior and attitudes; • Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, and demeaning behavior; • Critical appraisals of close family members; • Legally recognized privileged relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers; or • Income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for a program).

    2. IF A SURVEY, analysis, or evaluation administered to students that deals with issues listed above is not federally-funded, written consent is not required — but parents must be notified in advance and have the right to opt their children out of participating.

    3. UPON REQUEST, parents may inspect “any instructional material used as part of the educational curriculum for the student.” Some schools use “character enrichment” curricula which may violate student and family privacy. Under PPRA, parents are given the specific right to review these materials.

    4. PPRA REQUIRES schools to directly notify parents, at least annually at the beginning of the school year, when the following activities may occur, and grants parents the right to opt their children out of: • The administration of any survey containing one or more sensitive items listed above; • Any non-emergency, invasive physical exam or screening administered by the school unnecessary to protect the immediate health and safety of a student, except for hearing, vision, or scoliosis screenings; and • Activities involving collection, disclosure, or use of personal information obtained from students for marketing or to sell or otherwise distribute the information to others.

    NOTE: The rights of parents under PPRA transfer to a student who reaches 18 years old or becomes an emancipated minor under State law.

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is designed to protect the rights of children with disabilities, including students with Individualized Education Programs or IEPs, who are to be provided with a free and appropriate education.

    The law gives parents the right to consent before their child’s personally identifiable information (PII) can be disclosed in the following circumstances: 1) to participating agencies providing or paying for transition services used to facilitate a child’s movement from school to after-school activities; 2) when a public-school child with disabilities intends to enroll in a private school in a different district from the parents’ residence, and 3) each year before the district can disclose special education service records for reimbursement from the federal government.

  • Congress enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) (15 U.S.C. 6501-6505) in 1998. It is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

    The primary goal of COPPA is to allow parents to control what personal information is collected online from their children under age 13. The law applies to any vendors or operators of child-directed websites, online services including web-based testing, and programs or applications (“apps”) that collect, use, or disclose children’s personal information, whether at home or at school. Personal information can include a child’s name, email, phone number, screen name, geolocation, photo, voice recording, or other persistent unique identifier. But it’s important to note that COPPA only applies to personal information collected online directly from children; it does not cover information collected by adults that pertains to children.

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NOTE: Some information on this webpage was derived from the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy: Parent & Educator Toolkits.