What is FERPA?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (also sometimes referred to as FERPA or the Buckley Amendment), is a federal law regarding the privacy of student records and the obligations of the institution, primarily in the areas of release of the records and the access provided to these records. Generally the law provides that, with some exceptions, no information, applications, forms, letters, records, transcripts, etc. may be released, whether orally or in writing, without prior written consent, dated and signed by the student, specifying the offices of which information may be released and to whom the records are to be released. Following are answers to specific instructional situations:
- Posting grades
- Returning graded papers and assignments
- Sending grades to students
- Access to student records
- Parents requesting information
- Crisis situations/emergencies
- Who to contact with questions/concerns
The public posting of grades either by the student’s name, student identification number or social security number, without the student’s written permission, is a violation of FERPA even if the names are obscured. Instructors can assign students unique numbers or codes that can be used to post grades but the order of the posting must not be alphabetic.
Returning graded papers and assignments
Distributing graded work in a way that exposes the student’s identity (such as on a web site) or leaving personally identifiable, graded papers unattended is no different from posting grades publicly. If the papers contain “personally identifiable” information, then leaving them unattended for anyone to see is a violation of FERPA. Possible solutions for distributing grade information to students would be to leave the graded papers (exams, quizzes, and homework) with an assistant or secretary who would ask students for proper identification prior to distributing them, leave graded work in a sealed envelope with only the student’s name on it, or use a code name or number known only to the student and faculty member to identify graded work.
Sending grades to students
Instructors can notify students of their final grades via the U.S. mail if the information is enclosed in an envelope. Notification of grades via a postcard violates a student’s privacy. Notification of grades via email is only permissible with written permission of the student since there is no guarantee of confidentiality. Posting grades on a web site that is open to public access or in a way that exposes individual grades to other class members is not acceptable.
Access to student records
Faculty members are normally considered “school officials,” but a faculty member will have to demonstrate “legitimate educational interest” (e.g. advising students, retention study, etc.) to receive access to student records beyond their class and grade rosters. Faculty do not have access to student academic records unless their normal job duties specifically require access.
Parents requesting information
Such things as progress in a course, deficiencies in a subject area, scores and grades on papers, exams, etc. are all examples of personally identifiable information that make up part of the student’s education record. This information is protected under FERPA and the parents may not have access unless the student has provided you with written authorization that specifically identifies what information may be released to the parent(s). However, you should direct parents to the Records & Registration Office when questions such as these occur.
If non-directory information is needed to resolve a crisis or emergency situation, an education institution may release that information if the institution determines that the information is “necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.”
In the case of an emergency, call 911 or the College Police at 732-224-2222. Counselors are available on the Crisis Hotline at ext. 5555 during normal business hours; dial direct from any campus phone. You may also contact David Stout, Dean of Student Success, at 732-224-2770 or Kim Heuser, Registrar, at 732-224-2268 during normal business hours.
Letters of recommendation
Written permission of the student is required for a letter of recommendation if any information included in the recommendation is part of the “education record” (grades, GPA and other non-directory information).
Who to contact with questions/concerns
General questions may be directed to the Office of Records and Registration or to the office responsible for the information being sought.