What is FERPA?
FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) is a federal law that gives parents and guardians the right to their children’s education records and the right to ask to have the records amended. FERPA also restricts which school staff and people outside of the school can see education records.
When a student turns 18 or enters college, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents/guardian to the student (“eligible student”). In this fact sheet, “you” means parent, guardian, or eligible student.
What Qualifies as an Education Record?
FERPA applies to education records, which are defined as records maintained by the school system that are directly related to a student. The definition of “record” under FERPA is “any information recorded in any way” and includes records that are printed or handwritten or made using visual, audio, or computer equipment.
Personal notes kept by teachers or administrators are education records under FERPA, unless those notes are strictly for personal use and have never been shared with anyone other than a temporary substitute. Once a personal note has been shared or discussed with other staff, it is considered an education record.
Records created by a law enforcement unit for solely law enforcement purposes are not covered by FERPA.
School calendars or general notices such as announcements of parent-teacher meetings or extra-curricular activities are not covered by FERPA.
Does FERPA Prevent Classroom Observations?
No! FERPA does not prohibit you or a professional working with your child from observing your child in the classroom. Parents are sometimes told that schools must deny parent requests to observe their child’s class because such requests would violate the FERPA rights of other students. This is not true.
FERPA only applies to the disclosure of actual, tangible, records and information derived from those records. The fact that a child is in a particular classroom is not protected under the confidentiality requirements of FERPA.
FERPA does prohibit a teacher from disclosing information from a child’s education record to the parent of another child who is observing in the classroom, but the fact that an observing parent may see other students in the classroom does not violate FERPA.
The school can set reasonable guidelines about observations, such as how often and for how long someone can visit the classroom. The school also may prevent parents and others from taking pictures, videos, or audio recordings in the classroom without consent of the parents of all of the children in the class.
Does FERPA Apply to Videos?
Yes! Video taken by a school that contains information directly related to a student is an education record under FERPA. Therefore, you usually have the right to see and get a copy of the video. A school may require you to come to the school building to review the video.
If you cannot to come to the school, the school must provide you with a copy of the video or make other arrangements for you to review it. Video of routine student activities, such as students walking in the hallway or eating in the cafeteria, are not education records under FERPA because they do not relate to any particular student.
However, if the video records an incident, like a fight or bullying, the video is directly related to a student and an education record for each of the students involved in the incident. The video would not be an education record for students who are merely in the background.
What about videos relating to more than just my child?
If the video relates to more than just your child, your right to access is more complicated. You have the right to any part of the video that shows just your child that is part of the larger video. Your right to access parts of the video that are related to multiple children is more limited. You have the right to see the whole video or have what happens in it described to you, but you can only keep a copy of the whole video if the other children can be blurred out or if their parents or guardians consent.
Are videos made by law enforcement part of an education record?
FERPA says that a record made by a law enforcement officer for the purpose of law enforcement is not an education record. This means that you may not be able to immediately see video of your child if it was made by a school resource officer (SRO) in the course of enforcing the law and is used only for a law enforcement purpose. If juvenile charges are brought against your child, you will likely be able to see the video as part of the juvenile court process, but you cannot use FERPA to get it from the school.
However, even if the SRO takes the video or uses police or sheriff’s department equipment to take the video (sometimes all of the cameras in a school building are owned and maintained by the police or sheriff’s department), you have the right under FERPA to see the video if it is used for any purpose besides law enforcement.
For example, if the SRO or police or sheriff’s department takes video of your child and it is used for school discipline, that video is part of your child’s education records and you have the right to see it as described above.
What Should Be In an Education Record?
Schools have a “cumulative file” for each student that has information about attendance, immunizations, physical exams, test scores, and other similar information. In addition, a school system may keep a “discipline” file for each student, or that information may be included in the cumulative folder.
A student who has an IEP or 504 Plan will also have a “confidential file.” This file should contain all of the information used to make decisions about the student’s special education services.
There are no requirements under FERPA about what types of information a school must collect. A school is not required to provide information that it does not already maintain or to create education records in response to your request.
Usually, you have the right to review information that is only about your own child, but sometimes education records, such as discipline reports, contain information about other students. Generally, the school must block out, or redact, information about other students.
What Are My Rights Under FERPA?
Right to Review Records
Under FERPA you have the right to inspect and review your child’s education records. The school must produce the records “in a reasonable period of time,” but no longer than 45 days after your request. Your request does not have to be in writing, but it is good idea. A sample records request is on the last page of this Fact Sheet.
If you are preparing for an IEP meeting or hearing, IDEA gives you the right to review your child’s education records before the meeting or hearing.
Many schools allow parents to review education records by giving them a copy of the records to keep. A school may instead require you to come to their building to review your child’s records.
However, the school must provide copies if failing to do so would prevent you from exercising your right to inspect and review the records. For example, if you cannot come to the school building, the school must provide you with a copy of the records or make other arrangements for you to review them. The school may charge you a reasonable fee for the copies, unless the charge would prevent you from exercising your right to review the records.
Right to Ask for Records to be Corrected
FERPA gives you the right to ask the school to change any statement in your child’s records that you feel is wrong or misleading. The school must either change the statement in a reasonable period of time or tell you, in writing, that they refuse to do so.
The school also must tell you of your right to a hearing if they refuse to change the records. After the hearing, if the school still decides not to change the record, you have the right to insert a statement in the record explaining your view. Your statement must remain with the contested part of the record for as long as the record is kept by the school.
This procedure is for challenging the accuracy of specific information and cannot be used to challenge a grade, an individual’s opinion, or a substantive decision made by a school about your child; instead, the school grievance process is available for those issues.
More information about the hearing process can be found here under Subpart C.
Right to Confidentiality of Records
Schools must keep education records confidential, even from certain staff within your child’s school. School staff must have a “legitimate educational interest” to see your child’s education record. The school principal and current teachers generally meet this requirement, but other staff, such as a teacher that does not teach or otherwise have a reason to interact with your child, generally do not. Schools must use reasonable methods to enforce this requirement, such as physical or technological access controls. Schools must keep a record of each staff member who sees your child’s records.
Generally, FERPA requires the school to get your written consent before releasing your child’s education records to outside parties not involved in your child’s education. The written consent should list the records that the school wants to share, the reason they want to share the information, and the name of the outside party. You are not required to give your consent.
Disclosure without consent
FERPA does not protect all information about a student, however. In some cases, the school has the right to disclose information in the student’s records without your permission. Some of these exceptions include appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; school officials and administrators with a legitimate education interest in the information; to comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena; and state and local authorities within a juvenile justice system.
More information about disclosure without consent, including disclosure of medical or treatment information, can be found here under Subpart D.
For example, in some circumstances, an SRO may have access to your child’s IEP and Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) without your consent. SROs may be considered school officials if certain conditions are met and may have a legitimate education interest in these records for the purpose of school safety or the security of children, including your own child. SROs also may have access to your child’s IEP and BIP through the health or safety emergency exception.
Schools may also disclose “directory” information without consent. Directory information is information contained in the education records of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy, such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, dates of attendance, etc. Schools must give notice about the types of information they have designated as directory information and they must give you a reasonable time to ask that the school not disclose such information. You have the right to restrict the disclosure of directory information if your request is within the time limit provided by the school.
Right to Annual Notice
Under FERPA, a school must notify you of your rights under FERPA once each year. Schools are not required to individually notify you. Notification may come in the form of a PTA bulletin, student handbook, newspaper article, or other method that is reasonably likely to inform you.
Right to File a Complaint
If the school refuses to let you see or correct your child’s records, or releases information about your child without your consent that you feel required consent, you can submit a complaint to the address below.
Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-5920
Phone: 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327)