Frequently Asked Questions About FERPA

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that affords parents
the right to have access to their children’s education records, the right to seek to have the records
amended, and the right to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable
information from the education records. When a student turns 18 years old, or enters a
postsecondary institution at any age, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the
student (“eligible student”). The FERPA statute is found at 20 U.S.C. § 1232g and the FERPA
regulations are found at 34 CFR Part 99.
Educational agencies and institutions are required to notify parents and eligible students about
their rights under FERPA. Section 99.7 of the FERPA regulations sets forth the requirements for
the notification and there is a model notification on this Web site. Schools do not have to
individually notify parents and eligible students but do have to notify them by any means that are
reasonably likely to inform the parents or eligible students of their rights.
There are several exceptions to FERPA’s general prior consent rule that are set forth in the
statute and the regulations. See § 99.31 of the FERPA regulations. One exception is the
disclosure of “directory information” if the school follows certain procedures set forth in
FERPA. (34 CFR § 99.31(a)(11).)
FERPA defines “directory information” as information contained in the education records of a
student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.
Typically, “directory information” includes information such as name, address, telephone listing,
date and place of birth, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, and dates of
attendance. A school may disclose “directory information” to third parties without consent if it
has given public notice of the types of information which it has designated as “directory
information,” the parent’s or eligible student’s right to restrict the disclosure of such information,
and the period of time within which a parent or eligible student has to notify the school in writing
that he or she does not want any or all of those types of information designated as “directory
information.” The means of notification could include publication in various sources, including
a newsletter, in a local newspaper, or in the student handbook. The school could also include the
“directory information” notification as part of the general notification of rights under FERPA.
The school does not have to notify a parent or eligible student individually. (34 CFR § 99.37.)
As noted above, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student, once the
student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age. However, although
the rights under FERPA have now transferred to the student, a school may disclose information
from an “eligible student’s” education records to the parents of the student, without the student’s
consent, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student nor the
parent’s status as a custodial parent is relevant. If a student is claimed as a dependent by either
parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision. (34 CFR §
99.31(a)(8).)
If the student is a dependent for income tax purposes, the institution may disclose any education
records, including financial records to a student’s parents. If the student is not a dependent, then
the student must generally provide consent for the school to disclose the information to the
parents
If a student is attending a postsecondary institution – at any age – the rights under FERPA have
transferred to the student. However, in a situation where a student is enrolled in both a high
school and a postsecondary institution, the two schools may exchange information on that
student. If the student is under 18, the parents still retain the rights under FERPA at the high
school and may inspect and review any records sent by the postsecondary institution to the high
school.
Yes, if the student is under the age of 21 at the time of the disclosure. FERPA was amended in
1998 to allow such disclosures. See § 99.31(a)15 of the FERPA regulations. Also, if the student
is a “dependent student” as defined in FERPA, the institution may disclosure such information,
regardless of the age of the student.