Last Updated on September 29, 2022 by Ossian Muscad
FERPA is a federal law that sets strict standards for handling educational data. As a school administrator, registrar, or another employee, you must ensure that all student data in your care is protected. FERPA violations can result in hefty fines for the school and the responsible employees. To avoid potential problems, it’s important to understand exactly what FERPA entails.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know about FERPA, including what it is, who it applies to, and what rights parents and students have under the law. We’ll also examine some common FERPA violations and how to avoid them. So whether you’re an educator or parent, this guide will help protect your child’s privacy rights under FERPA!
What is FERPA?
FERPA is an acronym for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that sets strict standards for handling educational data. The law applies to any school that receives funding from the US Department of Education, which includes most public and private schools.
Under FERPA, all educational institutions must maintain a “directory information” policy. This policy outlines what information about students can be released without their consent. Directory information typically includes the student’s name, address, and contact information.
The school must obtain written consent from the student or their parents to release any other type of student data. This includes information like grades, test scores, and disciplinary records.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Schools can release student data without consent in certain cases, such as if the information is needed for a criminal investigation or if the student has been declared legally incompetent.
The History of FERPA
Before the enactment of FERPA, unsecured student data led to several high-profile scandals. In the 1960s, for example, Life magazine published the names and addresses of students who had been suspended from the University of California for participating in anti-war protests.
The Pentagon used student data to track the activities of Vietnam War protesters. In response to these and other incidents, Congress passed FERPA in 1974. The law went into effect the following year.
The law has been amended several times since then, most recently in 2008. These amendments strengthened the privacy protections afforded to students and their families. In addition, the amendments clarified that electronic education records are covered under FERPA.
All educational institutions that receive support from the US Department of Education must comply with FERPA. This includes public and private schools, as well as colleges and universities.
Schools that fail to comply with FERPA can face a number of penalties, including the loss of federal funding. In addition, individual employees can be fined up to $500 for each FERPA violation.
Some of FERPA’s provisions are reasonably straightforward. For example, to comply with FERPA, educational institutions must:
- Present requested student educational data within 45 days.
- Change student records as needed or be available to have hearings to discuss any contested requests.
- Remind parents and eligible students of their data rights under FERPA at least once a year.
Keep in mind that FERPA requirements can get trickier when sharing student data. What’s considered education data under the law? What level of digital data security is necessary to comply with FERPA?
To ensure your institution avoids penalties and maintains compliance, it’s important to partner with an experienced FERPA attorney. They can help you navigate the law’s complexities and ensure that you take the necessary steps to protect your students’ privacy.
Common FERPA Violations
Although FERPA has been in effect for over 40 years, many schools and school employees are still unaware of the law’s requirements. As a result, FERPA violations are all too common.
Some of the most common FERPA violations include:
- Releasing student directory information without consent: Remember, directory information can only be released without consent if the school has a policy outlining which types of information are considered directory information.
- Failing to secure student records: All records, whether stored electronically or in paper form, must be kept secure. This means ensuring that only authorized personnel have access to the records and that the records are properly disposed of when no longer needed.
- Disclosing student information to unauthorized parties: Only authorized personnel, such as school employees and contractors, can access student records.
- Failing to notify parents and students of their FERPA rights: As the law requires, parents and students must be notified of their FERPA rights at least once a year. If there are any changes to the school’s FERPA policy, parents and students must also be notified of those changes.
- Violating students’ data rights: Under FERPA, students have the right to access their education records. They also have the right to request that their records be amended if they believe the information they contain is inaccurate or misleading.
Once a school is proven to have violated FERPA, the consequences can be severe. In addition to the fines mentioned earlier, the school may also face a loss of accreditation.
To avoid these penalties, schools must take the time to educate themselves and their employees about FERPA and its requirements. They should also have a FERPA compliance plan to ensure that all student data is properly secured.
If your school has been accused of a FERPA violation, it’s important to take the allegations seriously. An experienced FERPA attorney can help you investigate the claims and take the necessary steps to protect your school’s interests.
The Future of FERPA
FERPA has been in effect for over 40 years, and it’s unlikely that the law will be repealed or amended anytime soon.
That said, the Department of Education is currently working on issuing new regulations that will clarify some of the law’s provisions. For example, the department is considering changing the definition of “directory information” to include additional items, such as a student’s email address and photograph.
The department is also considering clarifying the rules around third-party contractors. Under the current regulations, schools can outsource certain functions, such as bookkeeping and food services, to third-party contractors.
However, the regulations don’t explicitly state whether those contractors must comply with FERPA. The new regulations would clarify that third-party contractors must comply with the law.
It’s still unclear when these new regulations will be finalized and implemented. However, schools should keep an eye on these developments, as they may need to change their policies and procedures to stay compliant.
Create FERPA Waivers and Forms with DATAMYTE
One of the most effective ways to enforce FERPA compliance is to require students and parents to sign FERPA waivers. These waivers will outline the types of information the school can release without consent and the circumstances under which it can be released.
So not only are you educating students and parents about their rights, but you’re also getting their explicit permission to share certain types of information in specific situations. If you want to create FERPA waivers and forms, you should try DATAMYTE.
The DataMyte Digital Clipboard is a workflow automation software that lets you create smart forms. So instead of paper-based forms, you can switch to digital to ensure that you won’t have to deal with the inconveniences brought by paper.
The DataMyte Digital Clipboard also offers a wide range of features to help you manage your data more effectively. With it, you can:
- Create a comprehensive FERPA waiver that includes all the information required by the law
- Easily collect signatures from students and parents electronically
- Generate FERPA-compliant reports
- Get real-time insights into your data with the help of our analytics tool
- Save your FERPA waiver templates and reuse them for future applications
If you’re looking for a FERPA-compliant solution to manage your data, look no further than DATAMYTE. Our software is designed to help you streamline your workflow and ensure compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. Schedule a demo with us today to learn more!
FERPA is a complex law with many provisions. But by educating yourself and your employees about the law, you can ensure that your school is in compliance. By being compliant with FERPA, you can mitigate data breaches and safeguard your students’ privacy. Additionally, implementing a FERPA-compliant solution like DATAMYTE can help you streamline your workflow and ensure compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.