The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA – 20 USC § 1232G; 34 CFR Part 99) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the US Department of Education.
FERPA gives parents/legal guardians certain rights with respect to their children’s educational records. These rights transfer to the student when s/he reaches the age of 18 or attends a postsecondary institution. Students to whom the rights have transferred are “eligible students”. (Plymouth State University defines “attends a postsecondary institution” as the first day of classes of the student’s start term; applicants who do not become students have no FERPA rights).
Definition of Education Records, School Official and Legitimate Educational Interest
Educational records are defined as records, files, documents and other material which contains information directly related to a student. Educational records do not include personal files of faculty and staff, law enforcement records, or parent’s financial records. Nothing in FERPA prohibits a University official from sharing information that is based on that official’s personal knowledge or observation and that is not based on information contained in an educational record.
A “school official” includes any person employed by the University to fulfill the University’s mission, such as, but not limited to, faculty, administrators, staff, counselors and health and safety personnel; people or companies contracted with the University such as, but not limited to, an attorney, auditor, consultant or collection agent; or a student serving on an official committee or assisting another school official in performing his/her official tasks.
A school official generally has a “legitimate educational interest” if that official needs to review an educational record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibilities as described in his/her job description. This means that education records that are needed for the school official to perform their duties as assigned by the university will be released without direct student permission*.
As custodians of student records in compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, amended in 1998, the university assumes the trust and obligation to ensure the full protection of student records which includes maintaining the confidentiality of educational records. The university has developed policy guidelines for access to educational records with respect to the rights of eligible students and parents of dependent eligible students. Educational records maintained by the university are considered confidential, except for directory information and information that is exempt from the need for consent.
University personnel who have educational records in a personally identifiable form must comply with the administrative procedures outlined in this section.
Students may direct questions regarding FERPA and the regulations to the Registrar or the Dean of Students.
To ensure that students have timely academic advising, PSU protocols allow for multiple advisors. This means that students may be advised by not only the faculty or staff member formally assigned to them, but also by other faculty in their program (major, minor, certificate), or staff from the Center for Student Success. PSU also offers varying levels of instruction for certain courses. As a result, students enrolling in these courses may find them to be combined, or stacked, for academic purposes such as skills-based instruction. Courses may include, but are not limited to, those related to instruments, performance, and band/ensembles.
PSU instructors may make the decision to combine courses in order to enable students to collaborate on a project, work on a similar topic or problem, meet with a visiting expert, or other academic purposes. These courses could be different sections of the same course, different levels of courses in the same subject area, or courses that are connected through a common theme. Students will be notified in the course syllabus if their course will be combined.
- For example, two sections of Tackling a Wicked Problem (IS 1115) may be combined, the undergraduate and graduate levels of a course topic such as Climate Change (MT 4440 & MT 5430) may be combined, or a course on Play & Learning in Early Childhood may meet periodically with a course on Creating Games.
*Concerning student-athletes: It has been determined, via the need-to-know element within FERPA, that the Athletic Events & Compliance Coordinator can receive information regarding all conduct matters involving student-athletes.
Directory Information is information concerning a student that may be disclosed at the discretion of Plymouth State University. If information is approved for release, it may be shared through verbal, printed, electronic or other form, without prior consent. The university includes the following as Directory Information:
- Student name
- Awards/honors (e.g. Latin Honors, President’s List, Dean’s List, Honors List)
- Dates of attendance and/or semesters attended
- Class standing (e.g. first year, senior, admitted to master’s program)
- Dates of degrees and certificates conferred
- Commencement Program Listings
- Enrollment status (full-time, part-time)
- Participation on athletic teams
- Physical factors (athletes only)
- Degree and major field of study (e.g. BS/BA, undergraduate major, graduate program)
- Names of previous institutions attended
- Past and present participation in officially recognized co-curricular activities (e.g. sports, music, drama)
- PSU mail box number
- PSU email address (internal use only)
- Birthdate (internal use only)
Exceptions to prior consent
The following list includes situations where information in a student’s educational record may be released to a third party without consent of the student.
- To university officials, including the university’s attorney/s, who have a legitimate educational interest.
- To institutions where a student seeks or intends to enroll.
- To USNH branches in compliance with trustee policies.
- To parents of dependent students. (Appropriate IRS forms are required and generally students are notified of the request.)
- In response to subpoenas/court orders.
- Information considered “directory information” may be released at the discretion of the university.
- Notification of conduct outcome to victims of a crime of violence violation.
- Information that can be released to the public as explained in the student conduct section of the handbook.
- Parental notification in drug and alcohol related violations and threats to health and safety.
- Records of deceased former students may be released or disclosed at the request of a parent, personal representative or other qualified representative of the student’s estate, or pursuant to a court order to subpoena.
- Authorized representatives of the Comptroller General, the Secretary of Education, the administrative head of an educational agency, state education authorities, or the Attorney General when investigating government sponsored or affiliated program.
- Officials responsible for acting in conjunction with the student’s application for, or receipt of, financial aid.
- Authorized individuals or organizations conducting studies for or on behalf of the university for the purpose of developing, validating, or administering predictive tests; for administering student aid programs; and for improving instruction. These studies must be conducted in such a manner as will not permit the personal identification of students and their parents by persons other than representatives of the university or such organizations. This information is to be destroyed when it is no longer needed for the purpose for which it was collected. Authorization for such activities will come from the appropriate university administrator.
- Other entities with whom the university has directly contracted to offer/provide approved goods and services.
- If a parent or student initiates legal action against the university.
If educational records are released in situations where prior consent is not needed and a student may not be aware of the release, a reasonable attempt will be made to notify a student of what information was released and to whom it was released.
Rights under FERPA
Students have the following rights regarding directory information and educational records:
Right to inspect and review educational records,
Right to inspect and review educational records, excluding financial aid records of the student’s parents or guardian, confidential letters of recommendation where a student signed a waiver of right-of-access, or letters of recommendation written prior to January 1, 1975.
The university does not maintain a central repository for student records. Inquiries for access to specific educational records should be made to the University office or agency responsible for a particular record. Assistance in determining the location of individual educational records may be obtained in the Office of the University Registrar.
- To gain access a student may be requested to provide proper identification.
- Access to records will be given as soon as reasonably possible and no later than 45 days of the request.
- A designated university official must review and interpret the contents of the record with the student.
- If a student is unable to reasonably review the record in person he/she may request a copy of a particular record, excluding tapes of hearings, and may be charged the reproduction cost of copies. The request for a copy must be in writing and may only be granted if the release of the record will not violate FERPA rights of any other students. The university has 45 days to respond to this request.
Right to seek to amend records.
If a student contests certain information contained in a specific record he or she may seek to have the particular record amended. To do so, the student must request the amendment in writing, to the office that maintains the particular record. The request does not guarantee that the amendment will be granted.
- The written request must state the specific data the student is requesting to amend and the reason for the request.
- The department or university official that received the request may or may not agree to amend the selected information. If the request is denied, the student may follow the procedures developed for that particular department in order to continue to seek amendment of the record. If the request is still denied, the student may request an appeal through the Office of Academic Affairs.
- The student will receive a written decision as to whether or not the record was amended.
- If the record is amended, an explanation of what was amended will be provided to the student and the amendment will be placed in the student’s record.
- If the record is not amended the student has the right to place a written statement with the record he or she is contesting, explaining what information is contested and why he or she is contesting it.
Right to have records released to a third party.
A student may give a university official or office permission, to release verbally or in writing, educational records to a third party. (Some copies of educational records may not be released to a third party. Such records are determined through the office maintaining the records.)
- To do so the student must provide, to the appropriate office, a written statement requesting the release or complete a release of information form. Individual offices may have a specific form for this request. The student must sign and date the request.
- The student must specify which records may be disclosed, the reason the records are to be disclosed, and to whom the records may be disclosed.
- If a student wishes to revoke a previous request for a release, he or she must do so in writing, to the original office the release was implemented.
Right to have some control over the disclosure of information from educational records.
There are general rights students have under FERPA that are entailed in this section such as having the choice to release information to certain third parties, requesting that directory information not be made public, etc.
Right to request that directory information not be released unless otherwise required by agreement.
- To do so, a student must contact the Office of the University Registrar by the tenth day of class in a semester (or between the first and fifth day of class in a summer session).
- The non-disclosure of directory information is an all or none option (either it all may be disclosed or none of it may be disclosed).
- This request will remain in effect until canceled by the student. During this time, the directory information will then be treated the same as protected educational records.
- Given the fluid nature of electronic information it is not possible to guarantee total non-disclosure but every reasonable effort will be taken to protect confidentiality.
Right to waive access to records.
A student may sign a waiver of right-of-access to confidential recommendations concerning admission, application for employment, references, and/or application for an honor or honorary recognition.
- In such cases, the student, upon request, shall be notified of the names of individuals making such confidential recommendations. These recommendations are used solely for the purpose for which they were intended.
- In the event a student chooses not to sign a waiver of access, such an act may not be considered as a condition for admission, receipt of financial aid, or any other service or benefit from the university.
Right to file a complaint.
A student has the right to file a complaint with the U.S Department of Education concerning alleged failures by the university to comply with the requirements of FERPA.
Family Policy Compliance Office
US Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-4605
*FERPA Annual Notice to Reflect Possible Federal and State Data Collection and Use
As of January 3, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s FERPA regulations expand the circumstances under which your education records and personally identifiable information (PII) contained in such records — including your Social Security Number, grades, or other private information — may be accessed without your consent.
First, the U.S. Comptroller General, the U.S. Attorney General, the U.S. Secretary of Education, or state and local education authorities (“Federal and State Authorities”) may allow access to your records and PII without your consent to any third party designated by a Federal or State Authority to evaluate a federal‐ or state‐supported education program. The evaluation may relate to any program that is “principally engaged in the provision of education,” such as early childhood education and job training, as well as any program that is administered by an education agency or institution.
Second, Federal and State Authorities may allow access to your education records and PII without your consent to researchers performing certain types of studies, in certain cases even when we object to or do not request such research. Federal and State Authorities must obtain certain use‐restriction and data security promises from the entities that they authorize to receive your PII, but the Authorities need not maintain direct control over such entities.
In addition, in connection with Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, State Authorities may collect, compile, permanently retain, and share without your consent PII from your education records, and they may track your participation in education and other programs by linking such PII to other personal information about you that they obtain from other Federal or State data sources, including workforce development, unemployment insurance, child welfare, juvenile justice, military service, and student records systems.