Guide to Student Privacy
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 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 U.S. Department of Education.
FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records.
These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends
a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred
are "eligible students."
Common Questions about FERPA:
- How can I learn how my child is doing?
- Does the University have any written policy about information from student records that can be shared with parents?
- Where can I find out more information about FERPA?
- What records does FERPA cover?
- What does it mean to say a record is "protected" by FERPA?
- What are the exceptions to FERPA's coverage?
- I had easy access to my child's student records in high school. Why don't I have access to the same records kept by the university?
- How do I provide documentation of my student's dependent status?
- How can I find out my child's grades?
- Will I be notified if my student is put on academic probation or subject to academic dismissal?
- Will I be notified if my student is either hurt or in danger?
- Will I be notified if my student is treated at the Student Health Center or is seeing a counselor in the Counseling Center?
- How will I know if my student is subject to university disciplinary action?
- I've heard about FERPA allowing notice to the public if a student commits a crime of act of violence. What policy has Tech adopted regarding this new provision?
- What about the FERPA provision allowing notice to parents when a student violates drug or alcohol laws. What position has Tech taken on this rule?
- Will I be notified if my student becomes involved with controversial or harmful groups?
How can I learn how my child is doing? (return to top)
The best approach is to ask your son or daughter directly. Communicating with young
adults isn't easy. They're not always as forthcoming as we like. The college years,
however, are a period of remarkable growth and maturation. The ability and willingness of students to share
information and insights usually grows, especially as they acquire the confidence
that comes with assuming greater responsibility for their own lives.
Does the University have any written policy about information from student records that can be shared with parents? (return to top)
Yes. Like other colleges and universities across the country, the University is subject
to a federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (also called
"FERPA" or the "Buckley Amendment"). FERPA sets privacy standards for student educational
records and requires institutions to publish a compliance statement, including a statement of related institutional
policies. The University policy (titled "Student Access to Educational Records") is
available in the undergraduate catalog or online HERE.
Where can I find out more information about FERPA? (return to top)
The U.S. Department of Education enforces FERPA. The Department maintains a FERPA
Web site (with links to FERPA regulations) at http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/index.html.
What records does FERPA cover? (return to top)
The privacy protection FERPA gives to students is very broad. With limited exceptions
discussed below, part 99.3 of the FERPA regulations gives privacy protection to all
student "education records." Education records are defined as those records that are
directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational agency or institution
or by a party acting for the agency or institution." Examples of student records entitled to FERPA privacy protection are
grade reports, transcripts and most disciplinary files. A more extensive list is available
in the Undergraduate Catalog.
What does it mean to say a record is "protected" by FERPA? (return to top)
Unless personally identifiable information from a student's educational record falls
under a specified exception, the information cannot be released to third parties (including
parents) without signed and dated written consent from the student.
What are the exceptions to FERPA's coverage? (return to top)
There is a detailed list of exceptions at part 99.3 of the FERPA regulations ("education
records" defined) and at 99.31. Perhaps the most important exception allows-but does
not require-disclosure [of information in student education records] to the parents
of a dependent student, as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986" (part 99.31 (a) (8)).
Also, among the records not protected by FERPA are dates of attendance, academic major,
and degrees received (see, generally, the Student Access to Educational Records...
I had easy access to my child's student records in high school. Why don't I have access to the same records kept by the university? (return to top)
Under FERPA, the access rights that parents and legal guardians had in the elementary
and secondary school setting are transferred to students once a student has turned
eighteen or is attending any postsecondary educational institution.
Why do I have limited access to my child's college records when I am paying their college expenses? (return to top)
As a parent or legal guardian, you normally can have access to your child's college
records. The best way to do so is with the student's consent. Nonetheless, as indicated
in the answer to question six, if you claim your child as a dependent for federal
tax purposes and can provide documentation that your child is a dependent, the University
will give you access to his/her education records, as specified in FERPA (see part 99.31 (a) (8)) and in the Student
Access to Educational Records. FERPA does not require colleges and universities to
grant such parental access. The university does so as a matter of policy.
How do I provide documentation of my student's dependent status? (return to top)
Different university departments have different procedures. Some may require copies
of income tax forms, as specified in the Student Access to Educational Records. It's
best to ask the department administrator about pertinent department requirements.
How can I find out my child's grades? (return to top)
Most parents ask their child directly. Doing so fosters trust and a sense of mutual
Will I be notified if my student is put on academic probation or subject to academic dismissal? (return to top)
Information about grades and academic standing is sent directly to students. You can,
of course, ask your child to keep you informed about his/her academic performance.
Will I be notified if my student is either hurt or in danger? (return to top)
The Student Access to Educational Records states that "prior consent to disclosure
of information from student education records will not be required when notice is
made to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency, where knowledge of the
information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals."
We routinely consider parents as "appropriate parties" to notify in such emergencies.
For example, if a student living in the residence halls was transported to the hospital in a life-threatening situation, every reasonable effort
would be made to notify parents as soon as possible. Parents (along with their student(s)
may sign-up for Tennessee Tech Alert notification system. For information about Tennessee
Tech Alert, visit www.tntech.edu/ttualert.
Will I be notified if my student is treated at the Student Health Center or is seeing a counselor in the Counseling Center? (return to top)
Not normally. In addition to FERPA, state laws and professional ethical codes preclude
the University from routinely sharing student medical information and counseling records
with third parties, including parents. There are important policy reasons supporting
these confidentiality requirements, including the proven therapeutic benefits associated
with encouraging students to talk openly and candidly with a physician or counselor–without
fear their conversations will be reported to others. Confidentiality, of course, is not absolute. It can be broken
(and parents notified as appropriate) if staff members in Student Health Services
or the Counseling Center determine that a student poses an imminent danger to themselves
or to an identifiable third party.
How will I know if my student is subject to university disciplinary action? (return to top)
Student disciplinary records are protected under FERPA. The best practice is for your
son or daughter to inform you about any disciplinary charges directly. Students can
also authorize release of all their information in their disciplinary files. Information from the file can
then be discussed with a parent or legal guardian upon request. The University disciplinary
system is administered by the assistant dean for Judicial Affairs and Mediation Services.
I've heard about FERPA allowing notice to the public if a student commits a crime of act of violence. What policy has Tech adopted regarding this new provision? (return to top)
This recent change in FERPA permits–but does not require–release of final results
of campus disciplinary proceedings (reached on or after October 7, 1998) regarding
specified crimes of violence or non-forcible sex offenses, as provided in part 99.31
(a) (14) (i) of the FERPA regulations. Consistent with other FERPA requirements, the University has decided to make
public, upon request, the identities of individuals found responsible in a campus
disciplinary hearing for any crime of violence or non-forcible sex offense specified
in the law.
What about the FERPA provision allowing notice to parents when a student violates drug or alcohol laws. What position has Tech taken on this rule? (return to top)
Part 99.31 (1) (15) (i) for the FERPA regulations authorizes–but does not require–disclosure
to parents of 'the student's violation of any Federal, State, or local law, or of
any rule or policy of the institution, governing the use or possession of alcohol
or a controlled substance if (A) The institution determines that the student has committed
a disciplinary violation with respect to that use or possession; and (B) The student
is under the age of 21 at the time of the disclosure to the parent.' The University
has decided to notify parents of students under the age of 21 whenever a student has been found responsible for a first (or subsequent) violation of the University
drug policy and a third (or subsequent) violation of the University alcohol policy,
including policies enforced by the Office of Residential Life.
Will I be notified if my student becomes involved with controversial or harmful groups? (return to top)
We endeavor to notify parents in emergencies, as defined in the Student Access to Educational Records (see the answer to question 12). Affiliation with a "controversial" or "harmful" group would not normally qualify as such an emergency. The University is a diverse community. Part of the collegiate experience is experimenting with ideas, friendships and affiliations that may strike others as controversial or harmful. Courts even recognize a "right of association" in this regard protected by the First Amendment. Most parents and teachers work hard to help young people develop better decision-making skills. That process continues in the university environment–both in the classroom and in our activity programming. Ultimately, however, adult students must be given considerable freedom to make their own choices and to learn from their own mistakes.