A School Board's Guide to FERPA

By Edwin C. Darden

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act massively influences how school officials manage student files, casting a long legal shadow over the disclosure of academic and personal facts and instigating a wariness that occasionally borders on paranoia.

Congress passed the law, known as FERPA, in 1974 for two reasons: (1) to ensure that parents had access to public school education records; and (2) to ensure a student’s right to privacy by protecting personal information from disclosure without explicit parent consent.

At age 18, a student’s FERPA rights transfer from the parents to him or her. The U.S. Department of Education operates a Family Policy Compliance Office to answer questions and help administer the complex law.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: The school must have a parent’s knowing permission before releasing student file contents to any outsider or even to an insider who is not on a need-to-know basis. Also, parents have an unfettered right to look at their child’s school file.

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