What Constitutes a Violation of FERPA?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records. It applies to all schools, colleges, universities, and other agencies that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA gives parents certain rights concerning their children’s education records – like the right to review them and request corrections if needed – while also imposing responsibilities on schools in protecting those same records.

FERPA does not require schools to keep specific information in their education records or certain types of education records. Rather, it establishes particular privacy protections that schools must ensure for any education records they maintain. In general, FERPA forbids schools from inappropriately sharing a student’s personally identifiable information obtained from their education records. However, there are several exceptions to this rule that allow schools to share information without permission or disclosure in certain circumstances.

A school can violate FERPA in one of two ways: (1) it can deny a parent the opportunity to exercise their rights to their child’s education records, and (2) it can fail to protect a student’s personal information in their education records.

What are my FERPA rights?

FERPA gives parents and students who have turned 18 or gone to college certain rights regarding inspecting and amending education records. 

Inspection of Education Records

Under FERPA, schools are required to grant parents the opportunity to inspect and review their child’s education records. Once a parent submits a request to review the records, the school must provide the parent access within 45 days. The school must provide requesting parents with copies of the records or make other arrangements when the parent cannot otherwise access the records. 

However, FERPA does not obligate schools to give parents access to general information, such as school calendars or announcements that are not directly related to their child. For example, notices regarding extracurriculars or parent-teacher conferences are not considered part of a child’s education records.

Similarly, FERPA does not require schools to provide parents with information that is not kept in education records or to create new education records at a parent’s request. FERPA simply gives parents the right to access existing records and does not place any record-keeping burdens on schools.

Amendment of Education Records

In addition to permitting parents to access their child’s education records, FERPA also gives parents the right to request that inaccurate or misleading pieces of information in their children’s education records be amended. FERPA does not require schools to alter education records when a parent requests an amendment, but it does require the school to at least consider the request. 

If the school evaluates the request and decides not to amend a child’s record, the school is required to notify the parent of their right to a hearing on the denial of their request. After the hearing, if the school still chooses not to amend the child’s record, FERPA allows the parent to add a statement explaining their views to the record. This statement must be kept with the contested section of the education record as long as it is maintained.

It’s important to note that the FERPA amendment procedure can only be used to contest statements of fact that are inaccurately reported in an education record. It cannot be used to challenge grades, opinions, or substantive decisions about a student that a school makes and records. 

When should I contact an education lawyer?

If your child’s school is denying you access to their education records, you should contact an education lawyer as soon as possible to discuss whether they are violating FERPA. You should also consider contacting a lawyer if you believe there is inaccurate information in your child’s education records. An experienced education attorney can help you request an amendment and represent you at a hearing to ensure your child’s records are accurate. 

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