FERPA Means Going Back to School with Privacy Rights

If you’ve had to fill out any forms to send your kids back to school this year, you might have noticed one lengthy-looking form in particular: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) form.

FERPA is the latest piece of legislation aimed at protecting your kids’ privacy and their identifying information while it’s in the school’s hands.

Why the need for new legislation? Because even children are victims of identity theft. While the majority of those children reportedly are victimized by a close friend or family member, schools have also been the source of a large number of data breaches that compromised student information. The reason for this is in the sheer amount of information that schools collect on students—including Social Security numbers—and the lack of trained IT experts or expensive security protocols to protect that information once it’s gathered.

Of course, FERPA is taking your child’s privacy even further. It’s not limited to who can look up your child’s address or see his Social Security number (if you chose to provide it to the school, which you are not required to do). Instead, FERPA also addresses the security of your child’s report cards, transcripts, behavior records, and more. In most (but not all) cases, the school is required to get your consent in writing before sharing your child’s records, and that can even include sharing his record with you; parents have the right to review their children’s records after they request it in writing, but not necessarily to have copies of them.

One other issue that FERPA addresses is the sharing of your child’s information in a directory format. This Act simply streamlines the guidelines so that all schools are on the same page about what is allowable to share. Generally, any information that can’t be used to steal your child’s identity can be shared about your students, from his basic personal contact information to his hobbies, clubs, awards, and even his height and weight for athletic team participation.

It’s worth noting that once your child turns eighteen, the information contained in his academic and behavioral record becomes his property, not yours. You no longer have the right to access it, although the student can release the information by requesting it. The school may still release it to you if your child is listed as a dependent on your taxes, and may share anecdotal information about what they know without providing documentation, but for the most part, your child takes ownership of his data once he becomes a legal adult.

 

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