Office of General Counsel

FERPA

FERPA Questions and Answers

What is FERPA?

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It is also referred to as the Buckley Amendment. FERPA is a federal law (20 U.S.C. section 1232g) that was passed by Congress in 1974 to protect the privacy of student education records. It also provides rights to access or amend those records.

What institutions must comply with FERPA?

FERPA applies to any public or private institution of higher education that receives funds under programs administered by the Department of Education, including but not limited to federal grants, Pell grants, and guaranteed student loans. In other words, it applies to Clemson University as well as most other colleges and universities. FERPA also applies to elementary and secondary schools.

Who is protected under FERPA?

Any student who is or has been in attendance at Clemson University has FERPA rights. These rights are exercised by the student (even students under 18) in postsecondary institutions whereas in elementary and secondary schools the rights are exercised by the parent.

What are the students’ rights?

Students primarily have the following rights under FERPA:

  • The right to inspect and review their education records within a maximum of 45 days after the request is made. This right includes (1) the right to an explanation and interpretation of the record, (2) the right to a copy of the education records when failure to provide a copy of the record would effectively prevent the student from inspecting and reviewing the record.
  • The right to request the amendment of education records if the student believes the records are inaccurate or misleading.
  • The right to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of their student records.
  • The right to complain to the Department of Education about a violation of FERPA

Students do not have the right to inspect and review the following:

  • Financial information submitted by parents.
  • Confidential letters and recommendations placed in their files prior to January 1, 1975.
  • Confidential letters and recommendations placed in their files after January 1, 1975, to which the student has waived his or her right to inspect and review and that are related to the student's admission, application for employment or job placement, or receipt of honors.
  • Education records containing information about more than one student.

Do parents have any rights under FERPA?

As mentioned previously, at the postsecondary level, students hold and exercise the rights under FERPA. Parents have no inherent right to inspect their child’s education records. In general, records may only be released to parents under the following circumstances:

  • With the written consent of the student.
  • In compliance with a properly issued subpoena.
  • Upon submission of evidence that the parents declare the student as a dependent on the parent's most recent Federal Income Tax form.

If you do not have confirmation of one of the three circumstances noted above, it is best to advise the parent that the student should make the request for information or the student must provide consent to disclose the information in writing.

What is an Education Record?

An education record is any record that is directly related to a student and is kept by the University. This definition includes information recorded in any way, including electronic records and e-mail. This is an extremely broad definition. Therefore, unless one of the exceptions noted below applies, it is best to assume that if it relates to a student, it is an education record.

What is Not an Education Record?

There are several exceptions to the definition of an education record under FERPA. Some key exceptions are:

  • Sole possession records – faculty records that are not disclosed to other parties except someone who must serve as substitute for a given course. Personal grade books or draft exams are examples of these records. However, even though a student might not have right to access the personal grade book, due process might require access to the student’s own grades under some circumstances such as a grade grievance. A student’s transcript is an education record.
  • Records of a law enforcement unit of the educational agency or institution that were created by that law enforcement unit for the purpose of law enforcement.
  • Employment records unless employment is a result of student status, such as work study.
  • Medical treatment records may not be considered an education record but they are confidential under other law and professional ethics requirements.

When is written consent not necessary?

Set forth below are situations when the student’s written consent is not necessary prior to disclosing student record information:

  • Disclosures to other school officials with a legitimate educational interest in the information or document (see below for a further explanation of this exception).
  • Disclosures to authorized representatives for audit of Federal or State supported programs.
  • Disclosures to Veteran’s Administration officials.
  • Disclosures to other schools where the student intends to enroll on the condition that the issuing institution makes a reasonable attempt to inform the student of the disclosure.
  • In an emergency situation. An emergency exists when the information being provided is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.
  • Disclosures to persons or organization providing financial aid to students.
  • Disclosures to accrediting organizations carrying out accrediting functions.
  • Disclosures made in compliance with a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena if the institution makes a reasonable attempt to notify the student in advance of compliance.
  • The results of an institutional disciplinary proceeding may be disclosed to an alleged victim of any crime of violence.
  • Disclosure to an outside contractor if that contractor is a “party acting for” the institution and is performing a service which the institution would otherwise have to perform for itself (such as use of the National Student Loan Clearinghouse for loan verification).

What is a legitimate educational interest?

A University may disclose education records to school officials with a legitimate educational interest in the information or document without the student’s consent. Clemson University defines a school official as “a person employed by the University; a person or company with whom the University has contracted (such as an attorney, auditor, or collection agent); a person serving on the board of trustees; or a student serving on an official committee such as a disciplinary or grievance committee, or assisting another University official in performing his or her tasks.” A school official has a legitimate educational interest if “the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his/her professional responsibilities.”

What if I want to use student education records in my research?

See "Educational Research and FERPA" by Tracy Arwood, Director of Research Compliance for Clemson University. See complete Educational Research and FERPA document here.

What is “directory information”?

Under FERPA, a higher education institution may define some education record information as “directory information” and not confidential under FERPA. Clemson University has defined directory information as follows:

“student’s full name, home address and telephone number, campus address and telephone number, campus e-mail address, state of residence, date and place of birth, marital status, academic class, class schedule and class roster, name of advisor, major field of study, including the college, division, department or program in which the student is enrolled, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance and graduation, degrees and honors and awards received including selection to a dean’s list or honorary organization and the grade point average of students selected, and the most previous educational institution attended. Photographic, video or electronic images of students taken and maintained by the University are also considered directory information.”

IMPORTANT NOTE - Although directory information can be disclosed under FERPA, the South Carolina Family Privacy Protection Act (FPPA) prevents public institutions from disclosing personal information to third parties who intend to use it for commercial solicitation. If you receive requests from third parties for names, addresses, phone numbers or other directory information related to students in your department, be sure to contact the General Counsel’s office or the Office of Institutional Research before disclosing the information as violation of the FPPA is a misdemeanor.

Can a student refuse to allow directory information to be released?

Yes, a student may opt out or preclude directory information from being disclosed. In order to do so, the student must give written notification to the Registration Services Office (E-206 Martin Hall) by the last day to register for the enrollment period concerned as published in the Clemson University calendar.

How do I find out if a student does not want directory information released?

In order to get that information you must check the CRSM Web Student Information site. (If you do not have access to this web site, you will need to seek the assistance of your Department Chair, your Department Registration Coordinator or the Registrar’s Office.) Enter the student’s identification number and select the “SADR” option. If the student does not want directory information released, there will be a notation in red at the top of the screen. If you have questions about this process, please contact Calvin Becker in the Registrar’s Office.

Should faculty be careful about how grades are posted?

Yes. The public posting of grades by student name, Clemson University identification number or social security number without the student’s written permission is a violation of FERPA. Any faculty member who posts grades must use a system that ensures FERPA requirements are met. For example, a system using code words or randomly assigned numbers known only by the instructor and the individual student is one option. Do not leave a stack of graded exams in a place where other students or individuals can access them. Also, do not disclose one student’s grade to other students.

What should a faculty member do before writing a letter of reference for a student?

FERPA prohibits the disclosure of non-directory information about a student (such as performance in class, grades, attitude, abilities and background) whether it is conveyed in writing, in person or by telephone to third parties.

Often references are provided by faculty members upon the informal request of a student. Even though references are usually positive, the better practice is to request a written consent that meets the FERPA requirements before providing the reference information to third parties.

Who can I speak to if I have further questions about FERPA?

Please contact the Registrar’s Office or the Office of General Counsel with further questions. All faculty members should also read the annual FERPA notice published for students in the Undergraduate and Graduate Announcements.