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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.

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.

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.

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.
Signature/Date

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.

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.

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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