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Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

What is FERPA?

The Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, known as "FERPA". FERPA is an acronym for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. (20 U.S.C. 1232g, 34 CFR 99). FERPA is a federal law, also known as the Buckley Amendment. FERPA protects the privacy of a student's education records.

Who is an eligible student?

FERPA applies to eligible students. An eligible student is any individual who has been or is in attendance at an institution of post-secondary education at any time and about whom the institution maintains records. In attendance can include correspondence courses and on-line courses. The age of the student is irrelevant under FERPA.

What rights does it guarantee to the student?

  • The right to inspect and to review their education records.

  • The right to seek to amend those records if they believe they contain an error.

  • The right to have some control over disclosure of information from their education records.

  • The right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education if they believe their FERPA rights have been violated.

What records are covered by FERPA?

FERPA protects from disclosure "education records," broadly defined to include all records directly related to a student and maintained by an educational institution or someone acting on its behalf (e.g., contractors). Records can be in any format, including email messages, other computer records, videos, etc.

An educational record is "directly related" to a student if it is "personally identifiable" to the student, and a record is "personally identifiable" to a student not only if it expressly identifies the student on its face but also if the student's identity could be deduced from the demographic, descriptive, or other information the record contains, either alone or in combination with other publicly available information.

Thus, "education records" include not only registrar's office records, transcripts, papers, exams and the like, but also non-academic student information database systems, class schedules, financial aid records, financial account records, disability accommodation records, disciplinary records, and even "unofficial" files, photographs, e-mail messages, hand-scrawled Post-it notes, etc.

However, the definition excludes, among other records:

  • campus law enforcement records (if certain criteria are met);
  • certain notes made by employees for their own personal use;
  • certain employment records;
  • certain medical treatment records; and
  • alumni records containing information obtained after a student's graduation.

How is access obtained, including parent access?

  • Students. Students may have access to their own education records with few exceptions. These exceptions include parental financial information, confidential letters of recommendation, and portions of their own education records containing information about other students.
  • Parents. Parents generally have no automatic right of access to the education records of their children. However, access can be obtained in the following ways:
  • With the written consent of their child (see Student Consent question below);
  • If the child is identified as a dependent on the parents' tax return and documentation of this is presented to the College FERPA Officers (the Registrar and Associate Registrar);
  • If the appropriate college officials determine there is a health and safety emergency involving their child;
  • If their child has been found responsible for a drug or alcohol violation through the campus disciplinary proceedings.
  • If granted access, parents are only guaranteed the right to inspect the educational record, not the other three rights guaranteed to students. (See Rights question above)
  • School Officials. School officials who have a legitimate educational need to access students' records may do so. However, they are not allowed to improperly disclose information from these records to others.

    At Orange County Community College we use the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) definition: A school official is a person employed by the college in an administrative, supervisory, academic or research, or support staff position (including law enforcement unit personnel and health staff); a person or company with whom the college has contracted as its agent to provide a service instead of using college employees or officials (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 school 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 or her professional responsibilities for the college. In addition, a school official with a legitimate educational need must have been trained on the importance of FERPA and protecting students' rights of privacy prior to gaining access to these educational records.
  • Others. Members of the public, employees of certain agencies, court officials and others may access education records when the following circumstances apply:
  • The student has given consent (see Student Consent question below); oThe information has been designated directory information (see Directory Information question below);
  • A health or safety emergency is involved;
  • If the individual is a victim of certain types of violent offenses, s/he may obtain certain information;
  • The recipient is an employee of an institution to which the student is seeking or has transferred;
  • The final results of a disciplinary proceeding involving a crime of violence or non-forcible sex offense, under certain circumstances;
  • Organizations conducting studies on behalf of the institution (if certain criteria are met);
  • To comply with a so-ordered court subpoena issued by a judge
  • For audit and evaluation by certain state and local officials.

NOTE: Once again, FERPA permits, but does not require, these disclosures in some of the instances listed above in the Others category. When disclosure is requested under these provisions of FERPA, the request should be referred to the College FERPA Officers, which are the Registrar and the Associate Registrar. If the College FERPA Officers are unsure if they should honor the request, they should consult with college counsel.

What is student consent?

A student's valid consent means an informed, written consent which:

  • specifies the record(s) to be disclosed;
  • states the reason for disclosing the records; and
  • identifies the person(s) to whom disclosure may be made.

The signed consent form is meant to allow disclosure of the identified records to the specified individual(s) without the student being present.

Orange County Community College's FERPA Consent Form is valid for one academic year (Fall, Spring, Summer) unless permission is withdrawn prior to the end of the academic year. Student's who wish to continue the consent for the following academic year need to complete a new form in the Fall semester of the next academic year.NOTE: Since the regulation is explicit in requiring the specific records being requested with an appropriate reason for said request, if the educational records request is simply Any and all educational records , only the student's academic transcript will be allowed to be inspected or released.

 What is Directory Information?

Directory information is personally-identifiable student information which the U.S. Department of Education has concluded is permissible for institutions to release without a student's consent. Orange County Community College has identified the following as Directory Information:

  • Name
  • Current enrollment status (full-time or part-time)
  • Semesters enrolled
  • Field of study or Program
  • Degrees, honors, and awards conferred.
  • Addresses (but only of our graduates and only to governmental officials who wish to send congratulatory notices or to four-year educational institutions with whom the college has specific articulation agreements that will allow these students to continue to attend Orange while working toward a four year degree (e.g. Franklin University).
  • Additional information to military recruiters allowed under the Solomon Act. (See Solomon Act below)

Note: Once an institution identifies Directory Information, the institution may release that information without student consent, but are not required to do so. The best example of this is addresses, where we may release that information but as an institutional practice we only do so in the specific examples given.

Directory information may never include college ID number, social security number, grades, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.

 Can Directory Information be withheld at the students request?

Yes. Students may opt out of public disclosure of directory information by requesting what is known as a “FERPA Block.” The student does so by completing the FERPA Directory Information Block Request Form.

 A student interested in obtaining a FERPA Directory Information Block should be aware that unlike other institutions we do not include address and phone number as directory information and that a substantial consequence for having a FERPA Directory block is that such an active FERPA Block will prevent SUNY Orange from disclosing that the student once attended and received a degree or is currently enrolled at the college pursuing a particular degree.

Students who after having the FERPA Directory Block placed on their record wishing to remove the block must complete the FERPA Directory Information Block Removal Form.

What must SUNY Orange do under FERPA?

Annual Notice. Annually, the institution must advise students of:

  • Right to inspect and review their own records;
  • Right to seek amendment of their records;
  • Right to consent to disclosure;
  • Right to file a complaint with the Department of Education;
  • Right to opt out of directory information (provide a definition of directory information);
  • Definition of school officials and legitimate educational interest;
  • Records transfer policy.

This annual notification is done through the College Catalog, the Student Handbook, and through the College's Website.

Record of Disclosures. As part of the education record of each student, each institution must maintain a record of disclosures which contains the following information:

  • The names of all individuals, agencies, or organizations that have requested, or obtained, access to the student's records and the legitimate educational interest of those accessing the information; and
  • Any disclosures that are made under the health and safety emergency exception, the circumstances surrounding that decision to disclose and to whom disclosures were made.

However, there is no need to record:

  • access by the institution's own employees (as defined in School Officials above);
  • release of "directory information"; or
  • release of information with a student's written consent.

Authentication of Requestors. Institutions must use reasonable methods to identify and authenticate the identity of those who access records. Currently SUNY Orange follows its Red Flag policy which means, even if permission is granted, the individual requesting the information must present photo identification in person prior to access to the information being given. No non-directory information can be released over the phone.

 What other information is important to know under FERPA or about FERPA?

FERPA Complaints. Students may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Generally speaking, however, students may not file a lawsuit against the institution for a violation of FERPA.

Penalties for Violation of FERPA. Penalties for uncorrected violations may include a cutoff of federal funding to the institution.

Solomon Act - Military Access to Education Records. The Solomon Amendment (10 U.S.C. 982; 32 C.F.R. 216, 65 F.R. 2056) is not a part of FERPA, but it allows military organizations access to information ordinarily restricted under FERPA for the purpose of military recruiting. Specifically, the Solomon Amendment permits the Department of Defense entities to physically access institutional facilities to recruit students, and to obtain students' names, addresses, phone numbers, age, class, and degree program once every term. The Solomon Amendment only applies to enrolled students over age 17.

Institutions that violate the Solomon Amendment risk loss of funding from several federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor. If a component of the institution violates the Solomon Amendment, larger system funding may be affected.

 Who should I contact if I have questions about FERPA?

The College's FERPA Officers are the Registrar and the Associate Registrar located in the Registrar's Office on the 3rd floor of the Shepard Student Center in Middletown, New York.