Even Public Schools Have to Be Private: FERPA Guidelines for Document Storage and Management
Students have a right to privacy and confidentiality of the records kept by educational institutions. In fact, legislation known as the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has been in place for several decades that makes federal funding contingent upon schools practicing secure student records management.
What Is FERPA?
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that was enacted in 1974. It was legislated in order to protect student privacy and maintain the confidentiality of their educational records.
When the law was originally set forth, there were two main concerns around the misuse of student information:
- Lack of parental access to records
- Absence of uniform policies outlining who could access records
The intent of the FERPA guidelines was to ease these concerns by withholding federal funding from institutions until they were in compliance by providing parents or students over 18 access to educational records and placing limits on what information could be requested and provided to third parties. FERPA was amended in 1992 to strike privacy on records created by law officers, so as not to impede the enforcement of the law.
Under FERPA, an educational record is deemed private as long as it contains sensitive information about the student, but it does not apply to any documentation that merely mentions the student’s name (such as a directory, class list, etc).
The FERPA guidelines must be followed by any educational institution that receives federal funds, which is all primary and secondary public schools, and most private secondary schools.
Access to Student information
If an eligible student age 18 or older makes a request for their educational records, FERPA requires that they receive the information within 45 days of submitting the request.
FERPA does not usually require that schools fulfill requests for items such as syllabi, academic calendars, and schedules of school events. This is because this type of information doesn’t typically fall into the category of an educational record since it does not contain anything individualized to the student.
Any request that would require the creation of a record is also not covered under this law. For example, if a student requests to know progress in a course or an update on their grades, unless a record already exists containing the information, the school does not have to create one at will.
Amendments to Student Information
If a student discovers that anything in their educational records is incorrect or could be misleading about them as an individual, then FERPA gives them the right to request an amendment to the record. Schools do not have to grant every request, and those needing further examination will go through a hearing. If the institution still does not feel an amendment is necessary, then the student can leave a comment in the record.
The FERPA amendment process cannot be used by a student in order to challenge a grade or a decision about eligibility made by the school. The intent of FERPA is to protect student privacy and support accurate record retention.
Disclosure of Student Information
FERPA guarantees that schools cannot disclose information or records that are specific and personally identifiable to particular student to a third party without written consent from that student.
There are some exceptions to this law, however, and in the below instances, student consent is not required:
- Sending student records to another school where they are looking to enroll
- Determining eligibility for financial aid the student has applied to receive
- Disclosing information to parents for safety or health reasons
- Disclosing information for law enforcement purposes
The U.S. Department of Education is the enforcer of FERPA. This entity is the only one that can set guidelines and enforce them with fines if necessary. However, to date, no fines have been issued.
Traditionally, the concerns around maintaining secure student records have been with school computer systems being hacked. More technology is being used today than in the past with mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and flash drives. Email is an integral part of school systems and life as well.
While the advances in technology make it easier to maintain, manage, and transfer information, the portability of devices can also open up records to more risk.
eFileCabinet Can Help
In order to keep funding, and protect student information, schools must be steadfast and secure in their student record management practices. With a world that grows in technology, availability, and portability each day, it is very important for schools to implement a way to provide privacy to students and meet the record retention requirements set forth by FERPA.
Using document management software such as eFileCabinet is a great way to help schools keep organized, secure, and private records that will ensure no loss in funding or student trust.
Most cases invoking FERPA tend to happen at the collegiate level, when third parties such as journalists are trying to obtain information about student parking tickets, violations, or misconduct. So, keeping records that are secure and private are especially vital at this level—not only to protect students but also for schools to keep their funding in order to stay operational.