The Catholic University of America

Of Counsel - A Bulletin on Legal Issues at CUA - November 1997

Student Records

Introduction to FERPA

FERPA is an acronym for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. 1232g, 34 CFR § 99). Congress enacted FERPA, also referred to as the "Buckley Amendment," in 1974.

FERPA conditions federal educational funding on providing student access to, as well as maintaining the privacy of, education records. Faculty, staff and officers at CUA are required by FERPA to treat education records in a legally specified manner. The purpose of this newsletter is to acquaint you with your legal obligations regarding education records.

The university's student records policy in response to FERPA can be accessed online at FERPA requires that a student's education records must:

  1. be made available within 45 days to the student for inspection and review; and
  2. not be disclosed to persons who do not meet the strict definition of a school official who has a legitimate educational interest in the records (or others explicitly granted access under the law).

Student records include any and all records, in any medium, maintained by CUA which are directly related to a student (or are personally identifiable records or files). The terms "student records" and "education records" are often used interchangeably. They are, however, distinguishable under FERPA. The following student records are not considered education records and are not subject to FERPA protection:

  • CUA law enforcement records;
  • employment records where employment is not connected to student status;
  • medical and mental health records used only for the treatment of the student (protected by other means);
  • faculty and staff personal records not shared with others (the memory-jogger type of record); and
  • alumni records which do not relate to the person as a student.

Written permission must be obtained from the student before releasing an education record, unless the request for release fits certain exceptions. The special insert to this bulletin, "Release of Student Education Records," summarizes these exceptions. (Additional copies of this special insert are available from the Office of General Counsel.

One exception, for which written permission from the student is not generally required, is the release of directory information. To complicate matters, however, there is an exception to this exception. Students may request the Registrar to keep all directory information restricted from release. Directory information in a restricted record may not be released without written permission from the student, unless the request for release fits certain exceptions (discussed below).

"Officers of administration, members of the faculty,
and staff of the university are morally bound
to respect the rights of a student to good reputation and privacy . . ."

(Student Records Statement of Policy).

Rights are granted to the student to challenge education records on the basis of clerical error or for a violation of privacy. If the student believes that the education record is inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of his or her privacy rights, the student may ask that the record be changed. If the request for a change is denied, the student has a right to a hearing on the issue.

Parents of dependent students (dependency is defined in the Internal Revenue Code) may be granted access to education records without permission from the student. If the student is claimed as a dependent on a parent's tax return, then the record may be released without written permission from the student. In some instances, it may be easier to obtain written permission from the student.

Directory Information

CUA has chosen to designate the following as directory information:

  • name of student;
  • address (both local, including e-mail address, and permanent);
  • telephone number (both local and permanent);
  • date of registered attendance;
  • school or division of enrollment;
  • major field of student;
  • nature and dates of degrees and awards received;
  • participation in officially recognized activities and sports; and
  • weight and height of members of athletic teams.

Directory information may be given to the requester, either in person, by mail, or by telephone, and may be otherwise made public.

If the inquiry is made in person or by mail, a student's date and place of birth and signature may be confirmed.

Before releasing any directory information, check the computer database or call the Registrar to see if the student has placed a hold on the release of directory information.

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