FERPA Advice for New Teachers
Every public school has to take responsibility for protecting the privacy of students as well as keeping their records confidential. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), was enacted into Federal law in 1975. It helps to keep these records secure from the public eye.
Protecting private educational records
The FERPA protects students’ private educational records from unauthorized parties. All information that identifies an individual must be kept private. Third parties are limited to accessing the records under this provision.
Students and parents have access to their educational records
Students and parents have access to their educational records through the FERPA. Educational records are files, documents, and other materials maintained by an educational institution that directly relate to the student. Educational records include written comments and grades from students about their class performance. These documents must be made available to the parents.
Only individual records are to be used by a teacher
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act does not require teachers to disclose any records they might have for their use. These records are personal and should not be made available to any third parties. If they have an impact on the way the substitute teacher deals with students, such records can be shared with them.
Non-compliance with FERPA can result in severe penalties
Teachers who are not school representatives may face severe consequences if they fail to protect students’ educational records. Although it may not seem like a serious offense to reveal a child’s grades, it is a violation of FERPA.
Federal funding can be withdrawn from schools that are convicted or charged with privacy violations. Courts have held that the accidental disclosure of information that should be kept private is not enough to withhold federal funds. If the school has a policy of disclosing sensitive information via its policies, it will likely be warned and lose its funding.
Third-party disclosure exceptions
In certain cases, schools may be allowed to share student data with other parties.
- Other teachers or officials from the same school with legitimate educational interests in the student.
- If disclosure is required to protect the safety or health of the student.
- Transferring to another school.
- To comply with judicial ordnance.
- Parties interested in determining whether a student is eligible for financial aid.
What information can be released to students without their consent?
Teachers need to be aware of what information is not subject to consent before it can be released. It is also known as directory information. It includes the student’s name and address, email address, birthplace, class level, and any degree earned.
Information that is not available
All other information (called non-directory data) must be kept private until consent is obtained by the student. Teachers cannot post-test scores or request that another student distribute graded papers to their class. Students cannot stack graded work in a box that they can open and examine. A teacher cannot upload a list with class grades online.
Although a teacher can grade a student’s work for learning purposes only, the public cannot see it once the teacher has graded it. A teacher can write a recommendation letter using non-directory information only if the student has given permission.
Any non-directory information must be disclosed with the consent of the student.
Here are some tips to help you avoid problems
To comply with FERPA rules, you should use your common sense and best judgment. The screen should not be within the pupil’s vision if a teacher is at his or her desk reviewing student files online. If student records are accessible online, one should not leave the computer unattended. Finally, all printed documents containing student information should be destroyed.