The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), as amended, is a federal law that governs how colleges and universities supervise and protect student records. FERPA: (1) assures access by students to their education records, (2) permits student review of their education records for accuracy, (3) guarantees use of the records only for legitimate educational purposes, and (4) controls release and disclosure of such records. FERPA is not a records retention statute; it does not define what records a College must maintain but rather, it governs the confidentiality of, and access to, those records that are maintained. Additionally, FERPA does not require the disclosure of records to third parties, but sets forth what may be disclosed to certain parties outside the College under certain circumstances.
A. Records Retention
FERPA is not a records retention statute; it does not define what records the College must make or maintain. At Gettysburg College, no record will be made or retained unless there is a demonstrable need for it that is reasonably related to the basic purposes and needs of the College.
B. Education Records
FERPA addresses and protects the student’s “education records.” That term is defined as records maintained by the College that are directly related or personally identifiable to a student, except:
- A personal record kept by a faculty or staff member if it is kept in the sole possession of the maker of the records, used only as a memory aid, and is not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record.
- An employment record of a student provided the record is used only in relation to the individual’s employment with the College.
- In most cases, records maintained by the Campus Security office.
- Most records maintained by the health center and counseling services.
- Alumni records that contain information about a student after he or she is no longer in attendance at the College and that do not relate to the person as a student.
Examples of education records include: personal files in the Office of Academic Advising, the student’s transcript, Teacher Placement Records, Registrar’s records other than the transcript, and Premedical Committee recommendations. A student’s transcript is the official record of their academic standing and performance. It contains the student’s grades and any actions of the Committee on Academic Standing, Honor Commission, and Student Conduct Review Board, which required the student’s withdrawal from Gettysburg College. Upon readmission or the expiration of the term of suspension by the Honor Commission or Student Conduct Review Board, reasons for withdrawal are stricken from the transcript.) Students may obtain copies of their transcripts from the Registrar’s Office.
C. Disclosure of Education Records Internally
The College discloses education records internally without a student’s prior written consent under the FERPA exception for disclosure to school officials with legitimate educational interests. A school official is a person employed by the University in an administrative, supervisory, academic or research, or support staff position (including law enforcement unit personnel and health staff); a person or company with whom the College has contracted as its agent to provide a service instead of using College employees or officials (such as an attorney, auditor, or collection agent); a person serving on the Board of Trustees; or a student serving on an official committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance committee, or assisting another school official in performing his or her tasks.
A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibilities for the College.
D. Forwarding of Education Records Outside the College
Other than as described below, most information contained in an education record may be released outside the College only with the written consent of the student. However, FERPA provides that information contained in an education record may be released outside the College under certain circumstances, including:
- Authorized Federal and State officials may be granted access to student records required for the audit and evaluation of federally supported educational programs or in connection with the enforcement of federal or state legal requirements related to such programs.
- Student records may be released when required for compliance with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena provided that a reasonable attempt has been made to notify the student of such order or subpoena prior to the release of the record.
- Student records may be released to accrediting organizations in order to carry out their accrediting functions.
- Student records may be released to appropriate agencies in connection with the student’s application for or receipt of financial aid.
- The College may release to parents of a dependent student (as defined in the Internal Revenue Code) any information from the student’s education records.
- The College may release the content of student records to appropriate persons and organizations conducting studies for the purpose of developing, validating, or administering predictive tests, administering student aid programs, and improving instruction if and only if the studies are conducted in such a manner as will not permit the personal identification of students or their parents by persons other than representatives of the organization and provided that such information will be destroyed when no longer needed for purposes of the study.
- The College may release any information from any record about a student to any person if, in connection with an emergency, the knowledge of such information is judged necessary to protect the health and safety of the student or other persons. Such release of information will only be made in a serious emergency where such information is required by the person to whom it is released to meet the emergency and where there is not sufficient time for normal procedures to be followed.
- The College may release the final results of a disciplinary proceeding against a student who is an alleged perpetrator of a violent crime or non-forcible sex offense if the College finds that the student committed a violation of the College’s policies or rules. The College may only release the name of the student, the violation committed, and the sanction imposed. The College may also release the name(s) of other student(s) involved, such as the victim or witness, but only with the written consent of that student(s).
- The College may release information to the student’s parents regarding any violation of federal, state, or local law, or of any rule or policy of the College governing the use or possession of alcohol or controlled substances if the student is under the age of 21 and the College has determined that the student committed a disciplinary violation.
In addition to these circumstances, Gettysburg College identifies the following as directory information, which can be released without written consent of the student:
- Student name, address (home, campus and email), home and campus telephone number, picture, date and place of birth, dates of attendance, enrollment status, course schedule, field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, degrees and awards received and the most recent educational agency or institution attended.
- Any student wishing that such information about him/her not be released should notify the Office of the Registrar by September 15 of any given academic year so that the information can be deleted in the normal course of the preparation of its release.
E. Student’s Rights to Inspect and Challenge Education Records
Under FERPA, the student has the right, to review all materials that are in that student’s education records (as defined in section (3) (C) and (D) above), except:
- Financial information submitted by the student’s parents.
- Confidential letters and recommendations associated with admissions, employment or job placement, or honors, to which the student has waived rights of inspection and review.
- Letters, notations, and statements about students that were placed in the students’ records prior to January 1, 1975, with the understanding that they would be confidential. Such items will not be used for purposes other than those for which they were specifically intended.
- Education records containing information about a student other than the inquiring student, in which case the College will permit access only to that part of the record that pertains to the inquiring student.
- Students wishing to inspect their education records should contact the Office of Academic Advising for an appointment for this purpose. Records covered by FERPA will be made available within forty-five days of the student’s request.
- Students have the right to request the amendment of the student’s education records that the student believes are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the student’s privacy rights under FERPA. A student who wishes to ask the College to amend a record should write the College official responsible for the record, clearly identify the part of the record the student wants changed, and specify why it should be changed. If the College decides not to amend the record as requested, the College will notify the student in writing of the decision and the student’s right to a hearing regarding the request for amendment. Additional information regarding the hearing procedures will be provided to the student when notified of the right to a hearing.
F. Policies Relating to Release of Information to Parents
Gettysburg College does not release information about the education records of students without their written consent, except as referred to in 3. c. and d. above.
As noted in section (3) (D), the College may release to parents of a dependent student (as defined in the Internal Revenue Code) any information from the student’s education records.
Additionally, the College also has a practice of proactively informing parents of dependent students about the progress of their son or daughter at the institution in certain situations:
When a decision has been made by the College concerning academic or disciplinary matters that affect a student’s continuance at the College, parents of dependent students will be informed directly by the College. This applies unless a student is an independent student (over 21, no longer dependent on parents, and not living at home) who has requested that information not be sent to their parents.
G. More Information about FERPA
Questions about these policies (except those concerning financial aid) may be directed to the Office of Academic Advising. That office also handles requests for exception from normal College policy in this area. Students have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by the University to comply with the requirements of FERPA. The name and address of the Office that administers FERPA is:
Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20202-5901