FERPA Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is FERPA? 

2. Why should I care about FERPA?

3. What are students' rights under FERPA?

4. What are "education records"?

5. Are there any records that are not considered education records?

6. Are student-related comments and notes covered by FERPA?

7. What does the law mean when it says that students have the right to control disclosure of their education records?

8. Are there any conditions under which student education records may be disclosed without the student's consent?

9. Who are "school officials"?

10. What constitutes "legitimate educational interest"?

11. What is directory information?

12. Is the College required to release a student's directory information?

13. Can a student prevent the release of their directory information?

 1. What is FERPA?

FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and is a federal law that was enacted in 1974. FERPA protects the privacy of student education records. All educational institutions that receive federal funding must comply with FERPA.

2. Why should I care about FERPA?

If you're a student, it's important for you to understand your rights under FERPA. If you're a parent, you'll need to understand how the law changes once your student enters College. If you're an employee of Agnes Scott with access to student education records, you're obligated to comply with FERPA and to protect those records according to the law.

3. What are students' rights under FERPA?

FERPA gives students four basic rights with respect to their education record:

  • The right to control disclosure of their education record
  • The right to review their education record
  • The right to request amendment of inaccurate or misleading portions of their education record
  • The right to file a complaint regarding non-compliance of FERPA with the Family Policy Compliance Office of the U.S. Department of Education

4. What are "education records"?

Education records are defined as records, files, documents, and other materials that contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by Agnes Scott or by a person acting for the College. Education records take many forms, including paper and electronic. Education records include:

  • Grades
  • Class lists/rosters
  • Student course schedules
  • Disciplinary records
  • Student financial records
  • Payroll records for employees who are employed as a direct result of their status as students (e.g. work study, resident assistants, fellows)

5. Are there any records that are not considered education records?

The following records are excluded from the definition of education records:

  • "Sole possession" records and notes made by faculty and staff for their own use as reference or memory aids and not shared with others
  • Personal observations
  • College law enforcement records
  • Medical and mental health records used only for the treatment of the student
  • Alumnae records
  • Peer graded papers and exams prior to the grade being recorded by the instructor

6. Are student-related comments and notes covered by FERPA?

There are many offices at Agnes Scott that record comments and notes regarding students. These may be kept in the student file in a department. It is important for anyone recording notes regarding an interaction with a student to understand that unless these notes fall into the category of "sole possession" records (see definition in question 5 above), then they are part of the student's education record and subject to FERPA. Since FERPA gives the student the right to review any or all of his/her education record, these notes could be included in that review. Therefore, it is important that notes or comments be factual and objective.

7. What does the law mean when it says that students have the right to control disclosure of their education records?

It means that a student's education records may be disclosed only with the student's prior written consent. The prior written consent must: 

  • Specify the records to be released and state the purpose of the disclosure
  • Identify the party(ies) to whom disclosure may be made and be signed and dated by the student

8. Are there any conditions under which student education records may be disclosed without the student's consent?

Yes, FERPA does contain some exceptions to the written consent rule. Those exceptions allow disclosure without consent: 

  • To "School officials" (including third parties under contract) with legitimate educational interests
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena
  • To appropriate parties in a health or safety emergency in order to protect the student or others
  • To parents in cases of drug or alcohol violation when the student is under the age of 21
  • To the provider/creator of a record to verify the validity of that record (e.g. in cases of suspected fraud)
  • To organizations conducting research studies on behalf of the College, provided there is a written agreement between the College and the research organization
  • To officials at an institution in which the student seeks or intends to enroll or is currently enrolled 

9. Who are "School officials"?

"School officials" or "College officials" are College employees with general or specific responsibility for promoting the educational objectives of the College or third parties under contract with the College to provide professional, business and similar administrative services related to the College's educational mission. Individuals whose responsibilities place them within this category include instructors; faculty and academic advisers; admission counselors; employment placement personnel; deans, department chairpersons, directors, and other administrative officials responsible for some part of the academic enterprise or one of the supporting activities; College Police personnel; health staff; development officers; staff in Alumnae Relations; administrative and faculty sponsors of officially recognized clubs, organizations, etc.; members, including students and alumnae, of official College committees; staff personnel employed to assist College officials in discharging professional responsibilities; and persons or entities under contract to the College to provide a specific task or service related to the College's educational mission.

10. What constitutes "legitimate educational interest"?

FERPA permits college employees to have access to student education records in which they have "legitimate educational interest." Such access does not require prior written consent of the student. Essentially, legitimate educational interest is necessary for employees to carry out their responsibilities in support of the College's educational mission. You can also think of legitimate educational interest as a "need to know" that is essential to carrying out your job responsibilities related to education. Student records should be used only in the context of official business in conjunction with the educational success of the student.

11. What is directory information?

FERPA permits each institution to define a class of information as "directory information." FERPA permits public disclosure of those items without the student's consent. Directory information is that which is contained in a student's education record that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. View the list of directory information here.

12. Is the College required to release a student's directory information?

No. The only required disclosure of education records is to the student. All other disclosures, including those with student consent and disclosures of directory information, are at the discretion of the institution.

13. Can a student prevent the release of their directory information?

FERPA requires each institution to allow students to block disclosure of their directory information. Students may make the request in writing with the Registrar's office to block all or some directory items, including photograph, and those items are then suppressed from OPD and protected from directory release. However, a student may not be "anonymous" to other class members enrolled in the same class.

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Refer FERPA questions to registrar@agnesscott.edu or call (404) 471-6289.
Last updated September 2017