The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (F.E.R.P.A.)

Questions about FERPA
FERPA for Students
FERPA for Faculty/Staff
FERPA for Parents

Annually, Fort Lewis College informs students of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (Buckley Amendment), as amended. This Act protects the privacy of educational records, and affords students certain rights with respect to their records.

Questions About FERPA

1.  What is FERPA?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, also known as the Buckley Amendment, helps protect the privacy of student records. The Act provides for the right to inspect and review educational records, to seek to amend those records, and to limit disclosure or information from the records. The Act applies to all institutions that are the recipients of federal funding under any program administered by the Secretary of Education.

2.  Who is protected under FERPA?

When a student begins attending a postsecondary institution, regardless of age, FERPA rights transfer from the parent to the student. At Fort Lewis College, “attending” starts on the day the student registers for classes.  FERPA applies to all students who are currently enrolled (including Continuing Education), or were formerly enrolled, and does not apply to deceased students or persons who have applied but have not attended.

3.  What are educational records?

With certain exceptions, an educational record is any record from which a student can be personally identified and maintained by Fort Lewis College or an authorized party.

Educational records include any records in the possession of an employee that are shared with or accessible to another individual. The records may be handwritten, print, magnetic tape, film, diskette, or some other medium. A student has the right to access these records. FERPA does not require that certain records be kept. This is a matter of institutional policy and/or state regulations.

Students do not have access to the financial information of their parents, even though that information is part of the student's educational record.

4.  What is not included in an educational record?

  • Sole possession records or private notes held by educational personnel which are not accessible or released to other personnel;
  • Law enforcement or campus security records which are solely for law enforcement purposes;
  • Records relating to individuals who are employed by the institution (unless employment is contingent upon school attendance);
  • Records relating to treatment provided by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional and disclosed only to individuals providing treatment;
  • Records of an institution that contain only information about an individual obtained after that person is no longer a student at that institution (i.e., alumni records).

5.  What is directory information?

Institutions may disclose information on a student without violating FERPA if it has designated the information as “directory information.” At Fort Lewis College, this includes (as defined by the Student Handbook):

  • Student’s Name
  • Addresses
  • Telephone Numbers
  • Fort Lewis College E-mail Address
  • Date and Place of Birth
  • Major and Minor Fields of Study
  • Dates of Attendance
  • Degree Information (including degree and date conferred, honors, awards information, scholarships and academic awards)
  • Class and Enrollment Status
  • Participation in Recognized College Activities and Sports
  • Most Recent School Attended

Students must be notified annually of what constitutes directory information. Students may, if they desire, request that directory information not be released. Such a request must be submitted in writing to the Registrar's Office by the last day to add classes (Census Date).

6.  Who may have access to student information?

  • The student and any outside party who has the student’s signed written consent;
  • School officials who have a “legitimate educational interest”;
  • Parents of a dependent student as defined by the Internal Revenue Code. Parents of students termed “dependent’ for income tax purposes may have access to the students’ educational records. A copy of the parents’ most recent Federal Income Tax form, indicating that the parents declared the student as a dependent, must be submitted to the Registrar's Office to document dependency;
  • A person in response to a lawfully issued subpoena or court order. A reasonable attempt to notify the student must be made prior to complying with the subpoena or order.

7.  What is a school official?

  • Persons employed by Fort Lewis College in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research, or support staff position;
  • Persons appointed to the Board of Trustees;
  • Persons employed by or under contract with Fort Lewis College to perform a special task, such as an attorney or auditor.

8.  What is “legitimate educational interest?

A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official is performing or providing a:

  • Task that is specified in his or her position description or by a contract agreement;
  • Task related to a student’s education;
  • Task related to the discipline of a student;
  • Service or benefit relating to the student or student’s family, such as advising, job placement, financial aid, or housing assistance.

What is NOT "legitimate educational interest"? Legitimate educational interest does not convey inherent rights to any and all student information. The law discriminates between educational interest, and personal or private interest; determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. Educational interest does not constitute authority to disclose information to a third party without the student's written permission.

9.  When is the student’s consent not required to disclose information?

The exceptions:

  • School officials with a legitimate educational interest;
  • Officials of another school in which the student seeks to enroll;
  • Certain Federal, State, and local authorities in connection with an audit or evaluation of state or federally supported educational programs;
  • Anyone providing financial aid to the student;
  • Agents acting on behalf of Fort Lewis College (clearinghouses, degree/enrollment verifiers);
  • Organizations conducting studies on behalf of Fort Lewis College;
  • Accrediting organizations;
  • Parents of a dependent;
  • Parents/legal guardians when their children under age 21 have violated the alcohol or drug policies of Fort Lewis College;
  • Compliance with a judicial order or subpoena;
  • Appropriate parties in a health or safety emergency;
  • The student;
  • Results of disciplinary hearings to an alleged victim of a crime of violence or non-forcible sex offense;
  • The Immigration and Naturalization Service for purposes of the Student Exchange Visitor Information System;
  • Military recruiters who request “Student Recruiting Information.” Student recruiting information is defined as name, address, telephone listing, age, level of education, and major;
  • The Internal Revenue Service in compliance with the Taxpayer Relief Act
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • Ex parte orders under the USA Patriot Act.

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FERPA for Students

1.  What rights are afforded a student under FERPA?

These rights include:

The right to inspect and review the student's education records within 3 days of the day the College receives a request for access. Students should submit to the Registrar's Office, dean, head of the academic department, or other appropriate official, written requests that identify the record(s) they wish to inspect. The College official will make arrangements for access and notify the student of the time and place where the records may be inspected. If the College official to whom the request was submitted does not maintain the records, that official shall advise the student of the correct official to whom the request should be addressed.

The right to request the amendment of the student's education records that the student believes are inaccurate or misleading. Students may ask the College to amend a record that they believe is inaccurate or misleading. They should write the College official responsible for the record, clearly identify the part of the record they want changed, and specify why it is inaccurate or misleading. If the College decides not to amend the record as requested by the student, the College will notify the student of the decision and advise the student of his or her right to a hearing regarding the request for amendment. Additional information regarding the hearing procedures will be provided to the student when notified of the right to a hearing.

2.  How does a student make Directory Information confidential?

"Directory Information" at Fort Lewis College will be made available to the general public unless the student notifies the Registrar's Office of their intent to have this information confidential.  This notification must be made at the Registrar's Office either in person or in writing before the last day to add classes (Census Day).  If Directory Information is requested to be confidential, the following procedures are in effect:

    1. All transactions with academic offices at Fort Lewis College must be made in person with a photo ID.
    2. Without written permission, Fort Lewis College will not acknowledge the student’s existence on campus for enrollment verifications or similar requests. ("Exceptions to this policy include requests from law enforcement agencies (including local, state and federal agencies) or situations involving the health and safety of the student or other individuals.")
    3. The student’s record will remain confidential, even after graduation, unless the student signs a request asking for the directory information to become public.

3.  Whom should a student contact with a FERPA complaint?

Student’s may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by Fort Lewis College to comply with the requirements of FERPA. The name and address of the Office that administers FERPA is: Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20202-4605.

4.  How does a student authorize the release of an academic transcript?

Students must authorize the release of an academic transcript by written request with signature to the Registrar's Office. The request may be submitted via mail or in person.

 Request forms are available in the Registrar's Office and on the campus Website.

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FERPA for Faculty/Staff

1.  Penalties for Violating FERPA Regulations

The Family Policy Compliance Office of the US Department of Education reviews and investigates complaints of violations of FERPA. If the Office finds that there has been a failure to comply with FERPA, it will notify the institution about the corrections that need to be made to bring the institution into compliance. The Office will establish a reasonable period of time for the institution to voluntarily accomplish the specified changes.

If the Secretary of Education finds, after this reasonable period of time, that an institution has failed to comply with FERPA and determines that compliance cannot be secured by any means, he can, among other options direct that no federal funds under his administrative control (financial aid, education grants, etc.) be made available to that institution.

2.  Parental Access to Student’s Educational Record

When a student reaches the age of 18 or begins attending a postsecondary institution, regardless of age, FERPA rights transfer from the parent to the student. Parents must obtain a signed consent from their child to receive non-directory information. The Registrar's Office keeps that consent on file and the authorization is flagged on the Comment Form (SPACMNT) of the Banner System. Should a parent contact you regarding their child, faculty/staff must check for this authorization prior to releasing that information. If the authorization does not exist, faculty/staff must not discuss the student with their parent and advise the parent that their child must provide Fort Lewis College signed, written authorization before information may be released.

3.  Posting of Grades by Faculty

The public posting of grades either by the student’s name or ID number without the student’s written permission is a violation of FERPA. This includes the posting of grades to a class website and applies to any public posting of grades for students taking distance education courses.

Instructors and others who post grades should use a system that ensures that FERPA requirements are met. This can be accomplished either by obtaining the student’s written permission or by using code words or randomly assigned numbers that only the instructor and individual student should know.

Notification of grades via a postcard violates a student’s privacy rights.

Notification of grades via e-mail is not recommended. There is minimal guarantee of confidentiality on e-mail. The institution would be held responsible if an unauthorized third party gained access, in any manner, to a student’s educational record through any electronic transmission method.

Fort Lewis College provides a secure web application for students (Webopus) to view their academic record. In addition to the ID number, a student must also supply a self-assigned PIN, which is a second level of security, to view these records.

4.  Letters of Recommendation

Statements made by a person making a recommendation that are made from that person’s personal observation or knowledge do not require a written release from the student. However, if personally identifiable information obtained from a student’s educational record is included in the letter of recommendation (grades, GPA, etc.), the writer is required to obtain a signed release from the student which (1) specifies the records that may be disclosed, (2) states the purpose of the disclosure, and (3) identifies the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure can be made.

If the person writing the recommendation keeps this letter on file, it would be part of the student’s education record and the student has the right to read it unless he or she has waived that right to access.

Sample letter of recommendation –

I give permission to Prof. Smith to write a letter of recommendation to:
Allstate Insurance
324 Wilkins Drive
Atlanta, GA 33011
Prof Smith has my permission to include my GPA and grades.
I waive (or do not waive) my right to review a copy of this letter at any time in the future.

5.  The Media

Nothing in FERPA allows an institution to discuss a student’s educational record publicly – even if a lawsuit has made the information a matter of public record. A school official may not assume that a student’s public discussion of a matter constitutes implied consent for the school official to disclose anything other than directory information in reply. Additionally, university employees should follow university policy regarding the release of information to the media. The official spokesperson for the university is the Assistant to the President/External Affairs.

6.  Legitimate Educational Interest

What is "legitimate educational interest"? In accordance with FERPA, a school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his/her professional responsibility. This includes such purposes as:

  • tasks that are specified in his or her position description or by a contract agreement;
  • tasks related to a student’s education;
  • tasks related to the discipline of a student;
  • services or benefits relating to the student or student’s family, such as advising, job placement, financial aid, or housing assistance.

What is NOT "legitimate educational interest"? Legitimate educational interest does not convey inherent rights to any and all student information. The law discriminates between educational interest, and personal or private interest; determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. Educational interest does not constitute authority to disclose information to a third party without the student's written permission.

7  Special “DON’TS” for Faculty

To avoid violations of FERPA rules, DO NOT:

  • at any time use ANY portion of the ID Number of a student in a public posting of grades
  • ever link the name of a student with that student's ID number in any public manner
  • leave graded tests in a stack for students to pick up by sorting through the papers of all students
  • circulate a printed class list with student name and ID number or grades as an attendance roster
  • discuss the progress of any student with anyone other than the student (including parents) without the consent of the student
  • provide anyone with lists of students enrolled in your classes for any commercial purpose
  • provide anyone with student schedules or assist anyone other than university employees in finding a student on campus. Refer such requests to the Fort Lewis College Police Office.

Resource: The AACRAO 2001 FERPA Guide

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