FAMILY EDUCATIONAL RIGHTS AND PRIVACY ACT (FERPA)
What is FERPA?
The Family Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (commonly known as the Buckley Amendment), is a federal law which provides that colleges and universities shall maintain the confidentiality of all student educational records. The law states that no person outside the institution shall have access to a student’s education records, nor shall the institution disclose any information from those records without the prior written consent of the student. Certain personnel within the institution may view privileged records in cases of emergency or in order to protect the health or safety of the student or other persons.
While the law does permit parental access when the student is a dependent of the parent(s) defined in Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, some of our students are dependents under the IRS definition and others are not. For expediency, it is recommended that any student wishing to allow third parties to access any of their information at the College should complete this form and submit it to the Student Affairs Office. College employees will verify that this document is on file before releasing any information. If the consent is not signed, we will not be able to allow third party access to academic, financial or other records except to a parent that provides documentation that a student is a dependent for tax purposes as defined by the IRS.
It is the policy of Mesalands Community College to ensure the right of privacy and access to the student of his or her education records in accordance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), its amendments, and the final rule of the U.S. Department of Education.
This act gives students certain rights regarding their records:
- The right to inspect information contained in the student’s educational records.
- The right to request correction of records upon proof of error.
- The right to prevent disclosure of records without consent, with certain exceptions, including directory information, as delineated in the College’s complete policy.
- The right to secure a copy of the College’s complete policy (see Office of Enrollment Management).
- The right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by the College to comply with the provisions of the Act.
- The right to have directory information withheld (see Release of Student Information).
Release of Student Information
With the exception of “directory information” and other exceptions permitted by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), no access to a student’s, or former student’s, educational records will be granted unless a written authorization form is completed.
Directory information consists of the following:
Name, mailing address, date of birth, major field of study, classification (freshman or sophomore), dates of attendance (terms), honors and degrees awarded, photographic image, email address, and the name of the educational agency or college attended immediately prior to coming to Mesalands Community College.
Students who are currently enrolled and wish to deny release of directory information must complete an “Access to Student Records” form in the Office of Enrollment Management. Restriction of directory information will only be honored while the student is currently enrolled at Mesalands Community College. Should a student not maintain continuous enrollment, he or she must complete another form upon readmission.
What is Directory Information?
Directory information is information available for release to the general public. The Act states that each student has the right to inform Mesalands Community College that any or all information may not be released. Mesalands Community College will honor a student’s request to restrict the release of Directory Information under the terms of FERPA. Mesalands Community College defines directory information as the following:
- College and Major
- Participation in recognized sports
- Height and weight of athletes
- Dates of Attendance
- Degrees, Certificates or Awards Received
Mesalands Community College students may withhold disclosure of this information. In order to withhold information, the student must notify Student Services in writing. If the student has indicated a wish for this information to be withheld, a notation to this effect will appear in the notes section of the Student Record.
At the post-secondary level, parents have no inherent rights to inspect a student’s education records. The right to inspect records is limited solely to the student. Records may be released to parents* only under the following circumstances:
1) In compliance with subpoena, or
2) by producing a copy of the most recent Federal Income Tax form showing that the student was claimed as a dependent.
- An institution is not required to disclose information from a student’s educational records to the parents of a dependent student. It may, however, exercise its discretion in doing so.
In some situations, a school may determine that it is necessary to disclose non-directory information to appropriate parties in order to address a disaster or other health or safety emergency. FERPA permits school officials to disclose, without consent, education records, or personally identifiable information from education records, to appropriate parties (see Q&A 9) in connection with an emergency, if knowledge of that information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals. See 34 CFR §§ 99.31(a)(10) and 99.36. This exception to FERPA’s general consent requirement is temporally limited to the period of the emergency and generally does not allow for a blanket release of personally identifiable information from the student’s education records.
Under this health or safety emergency provision, an educational agency or institution is responsible for making a determination whether to make a disclosure of personally identifiable information on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the totality of the circumstances pertaining to a threat to the health or safety of the student or others. If the school district or school determines that there is an articulable and significant threat to the health or safety of the student or other individuals and that a party needs personally identifiable information from education records to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals, it may disclose that information to such appropriate party without consent. 34 CFR § 99.36. This is a flexible standard under which the Department defers to school administrators so that they may bring appropriate resources to bear on the situation, provided that there is a rational basis for the educational agency’s or institution’s decisions about the nature of the emergency and the appropriate parties to whom information should be disclosed. We note also that, within a reasonable period of time after a disclosure is made under this exception, an educational agency or institution must record in the student’s education records the articulable and significant threat that formed the basis for the disclosure and the parties to whom information was disclosed. 34 CFR § 99.32(a)(5).
FERPA and Subpoenas
In contrast to the exceptions to the notification and record keeping requirements granted for law enforcement purposes, educational agencies or institutions may disclose information pursuant to any other court order or lawfully issued subpoena only if the school makes a reasonable effort to notify the parent or eligible student of the order or subpoena in advance of compliance, so that the parent or eligible student may seek protective action. Additionally, schools must comply with FERPA’s recordkeeping requirements under 34 CFR 99.32 when disclosing information pursuant to a standard court order or subpoena.
Mesalands Community College makes a reasonable effort to notify a student who is the subject of a subpoena or court order before complying, so that the student may seek protective action (unless the court or issuing agency has prohibited such
USA Patriot Act of 2001
The USA Patriot Act of 2001 (The Unity and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) was signed into law on October 26, 2001. It amended F.E.R.P.A. and expanded the authority of federal law enforcement officials to obtain educational records of students in connection with investigations and prosecutions of terrorism, without consent from the student.
Federal law enforcement officials are required to obtain a court order before educational records must be released under these provisions. In order to obtain a court order, a U.S. assistant attorney general or higher ranking official must certify that the records are relevant to a terrorism investigation.
If staff or faculty member of Mesalands Community College is contacted by a law enforcement official with a request for a student’s educational record, the request is to be referred immediately to the Vice President of Student affairs.
Posting of Grades By Faculty
The public posting of grades either by the student’s name, institutional student identification number, or security number (without the student’s written permission) is a violation of FERPA. Even with names obscured, student identifier numbers are considered personally identifiable information. Therefore, the practice of the posting grades either by social security or student identification numbers is a violation of FERPA.
Taking Attendance Using Class Rosters
The taking of attendance by ‘passing around’ the class roster in a violation of FERPA. This document contains personally identifiable information such as name, social security number and student identification number. As an employee of Mesalands Community College, you have access to Student Educational Records. Their confidentiality, use, and release are governed by FERPA. Your utilization of this information is governed by the regulations and responsibilities of your employment and position.
Your job places you in a position of trust. You play an integral part in ensuring that student information is handled properly. Students have the right to expect that their educational records will be treated with the utmost discretion and confidentiality. In general, all student information must be treated as confidential. Even public or ‘directory information’ is subject to restriction on an individual basis. Unless your job involves the release of certain information and you have received specific training to that end, any requests for disclosure of information (especially outside the College), should be referred to Student Services. Release of information contained in students’ records without the written consent of the person identified on the document is a violation of Sec. 438 Public Law 90-247.
As college employees, you should have your own accounts and passwords for the administrative computer system and e-mail. You are responsible for your personal account and will be held accountable for any improper use. Protection of your sign-on password and procedure is critical for security. Your password is the only protection your account has, and the only way the computer system can verify that you are actually who you say you are. Be sure to pick a strong password and protect it.
Your Responsibilities as a Student Employee
Security and confidentiality are matters of concern to all offices and persons who have access to office facilities. Student Services is the official repository for student academic records, folders and other files at Mesalands Community College. Other educational records are stored in both hard copy and electronic form in offices throughout the campus. Many offices are able to extend job opportunities and work experience to supplement students’ finances and education. In this way, the student employee is placed in a unique position of trust as a major responsibility of offices is the security and confidentiality of this information. As such, each student employee must adhere to the following:
- No one may make or permit unauthorized use of any information in files maintained, stored of processed by the office in which they are employed.
- No one shall seek personal benefit or allow others to benefit personally from the knowledge of any confidential information which has come to them by virtue of their work assignments.
- No one is to exhibit or divulge the contents of any record or report to any person except in the conduct of their work assignments and in accordance with college policies and procedures.
- No one may knowingly include, or cause to be included, any record or report containing a false or misleading entry. No one may knowingly expunge or cause to be expunged information contained in any record, report or data entry.
- No official record or report, or copy thereof, from the office where it is maintained may be removed except in the performance of ones duties.
- No one is to aid, abet, or act in conspiracy with another to violate any part of this code.
- Any knowledge of a violation must be immediately reported to the violator’s supervisor.
In Summary, Remember:
- Checking a person’s picture identification when releasing educational records is a good idea. Always check to see if the student permitted disclosure of information before you release any information regarding that student.
- Discussing a student’s record with any person who does not have a legitimate educational interest is a violation of FERPA. This pertains to conversations on and off the job.
- Releasing confidential student information (non-directory) to another student, College organization, or any person who does not have a legitimate educational interest in that student without the student’s express written authorization is a violation of FERPA.
- Leaving reports or computer screens containing confidential information in view of others who do not have a legitimate educational interest in the data or leaving your computer unattended is in violation of FERPA.
- Making personal use of student information is a violation of FERPA.
- Putting paperwork in the trash with a student’s information (i.e., social security number, grades etc.) is a violation of FERPA.
- Proven FERPA violations may result in personal litigation as well as the loss of federal funds to Mesalands Community College.
- Violation of confidentiality and security may lead to appropriate personal action against the violator.
If you have any questions regarding FERPA, including the release of sensitive student information, please contact the Student Affairs Office.