As students are getting to know their way around their new university dashboards, we hear a lot of questions about FERPA. What is FERPA? And what do you need to know about it, as a student and as a parent?
Here’s the definition of FERPA directly from the government:
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal privacy law that gives parents certain protections with regard to their children’s education records, such as report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules.
Protecting Student Privacy; U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
OK, But What Does That Mean?
FERPA means different things to parents and students. To students, it means “hey my parents don’t need to know about my college record!” To parents, it means “OH MY GOSH I WON’T KNOW ABOUT MY KID’S COLLEGE RECORD!” It can be a scary time as parents are faced with the legal fact that their college-bound student is an adult. On the other hand, students are both impressed and sometimes a little scared at the power they wield.
Like Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
So before everyone freaks out, consider talking.
Privacy vs. Communication
Parents, here’s the simple truth about FERPA. It was designed to allow legal U.S. adults (people over the age of 18 years old) a right to the privacy of their records. In some ways, it’s the moment where you, as the parent, have to come to terms with the fact that the apron strings need cut (or at least lengthened).
We say that with love.
In the case of college records, this moment is crucial to set the tone with your adult student. Explaining about FERPA together is a good time to talk about their organization skills as adults. Tell them to consider the privacy to the records along with their social media privacy, and financial privacy.
FERPA can be the first moment students understand that they’re piloting their course, and are either in need of assistance still, or prepared to go it alone. That power can be daunting, so approach each with an open, conversational tone.
FERPA waiver forms can usually be found on the university registrar pages, or student account dashboards online. Importantly, the student needs to fill these out; not the parents. If, after conversations have taken place, and you’ve come to a decision as to who will be allowed to access information, find them, and fill them out together.
Exceptions: Still Talk It Through
There are some exceptions to FERPA. According to the U.S. Department of Education Parents’ Guide:
Schools may disclose education records to parents if the student is claimed as a dependent for tax purposes.
Colleges and universities may disclose education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their son or daughter.
Schools may inform parents if the student, if he or she is under age 21, has violated any law or policy concerning the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.
A school official may generally share with a parent information that is based on that official’s personal knowledge or observation of the student.
Parents’ Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act: Rights Regarding Children’s Education Records
Parents might be like “hooray! You’re still a dependent!” But don’t crow too loudly. They won’t be a dependent forever. And wouldn’t you rather they help make their decisions about their right to privacy instead of getting access to their records through a loophole?
Finally, FERPA is a complex situation, and it can make the an already emotional time even more tense. We hope both parents and students can find this particular topic liberating, and not frightening.