Proposed changes to FERPA regulations

On March 24, 2008 the U.S. Department of Education published proposed changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (known as FERPA) regulations.  The changes are needed because of various statutory acts like the USA Patriot Act, two U.S. Supreme court cases, technology changes, and events like the Virginia Tech tragedy. The Department seeks comment and input on the proposal.

The proposed regulations offer definitional changes (clarifying that cyber-students “attend” a school; that social security numbers, student ID numbers, and unique electronic identifiers are not disclosable directory information, and more). Another proposal would permit a school receiving a record, such as a transcript to provide the record to the creating institution in order to verify the record as accurate and not falsified. “Personally identifiable information” is also changed to include information that, alone or in conjunction with other information, can lead to private student information (such as mother’s maiden name and information). 

Of particular interest in the higher education area, the proposal addresses concerns raised in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy and attempts to provide better guidance and assurance on disclosing information in health and safety situations. For students 18 and over, the proposal clarifies certain circumstances in which information can be disclosed to parents without consent, for example: when the student is a federal tax dependent of the parents; when necessary for health and safety; and when a student under age 21 violates substance abuse policies. 

The proposal also clarifies the means by which outside parties, such as contractors, may receive records without prior consent. Other matters address disclosure of “de-identified” information, verifying the identity of the person requesting records, among other items.

The Department will receive comments up to May 8, 2008. The link information explains how to submit comments.

Annual notice time

Annual notices are one among the many things that school administrators must remember to do at this busy time of year. The National School Boards Association has issued a convenient summary regarding the multiple notices that schools (including higher education institutions in some cases) must provide to parents, students, and the public, complete with handy links to model forms and other information. 

You should note that the model forms links are to federal models and are not specific to a particular state's or district's requirements or needs. A district should consider its unique circumstances for each notice, for example, whether the FERPA notice covers independent contracts, such as private student evaluators, sufficiently to meet anticipated district needs.