The Catholic University of America

Of Counsel - A Bulletin on Legal Issues at CUA - November 1997 (updated October 2006)

Student Records

Questions and Answers About FERPA

Can a professor obtain a copy of student education records without the student's written permission?

A school official (and this includes professors) may obtain a copy of a student's record without consent of the student only when the school official has a "legitimate educational interest" (or a legal "right to know").

What is a legitimate educational interest?

A school official has a legitimate educational interest, or legal right to know, if the official is:

  • performing a task that is specified in his/her position description or contract;
  • performing a task related to a student's education or to student discipline;
  • providing a service or benefit related to the student or student's family; or
  • maintaining safety and security on campus.

An example of a legitimate educational interest would be an academic advisor who needs to review a student's education record to determine what courses have been and/or need to be completed. This is a task related to advising the student. The advisor would not be authorized to view education records that are not relevant to the task at hand. Curiosity does not qualify as a legal right to know.

I have access to computerized education records. Does this mean I am authorized to view all of the available records?

No. The confidentiality provisions of FERPA still apply, and a school official should only access a student's education record if a legitimate educational interest exists with respect to that student and that record.

Does FERPA require the release of directory information?

FERPA does not require the release of directory information, but allows the university to designate certain information as directory information that may be released without seeking written permission of the student. Students are given an opportunity at registration to indicate that they do not want any directory information released. Thus, before releasing directory information, record custodians need to check the computer database or with the Registrar's office to see if a file is flagged for non-release of directory information. The release of directory information from such restricted records is prohibited without written permission from the student, unless the requester fits the profile of those allowed access to education records without the written permission of the student.

What should I do if someone from the media asks for information about a well-known person
who was once a CUA student?

FERPA protects the education records of former and current students. Thus, educational record information about a former student cannot be released without the written permission of the student. Directory information could be released as long as no hold has been placed on the directory information (i.e., directory information published in the annual CUA Alumni Directory).

If a record is not protected by FERPA, does this mean that the record is not confidential?

Not necessarily. It is important to realize that other laws and CUA policies govern the release of records that are not education records. For example, employment records are protected by CUA personnel policies. Issues related to the release of information from other records will be addressed in future bulletins.

Are records of campus disciplinary proceedings protected under FERPA?

Yes. Narrow exceptions exist, however, permitting results of a disciplinary proceeding to be disclosed to the victim of a crime of violence, and requiring (under the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act) results of a disciplinary proceeding to be disclosed to a victim and the accused when the proceeding involves a sex offense.

A student in our school was suspended. Although this information is in the student's education record, I obtained it through discussions with my colleagues. Does FERPA prohibit me from discussing this information?

No. Congress did not intend to prohibit comment on, or discussion of, facts about a student, which were learned independently of his/her records (Frasca v. Andrews, 463 F. Supp. 1043 (E.D.N.Y. (1979)).

However, an independent analysis separate from FERPA should be conducted before relaying information about students that might be considered sensitive or confidential for reasons other than FERPA. Also, consider whether the source of your information obtained the information from the student's education record, as re-release of that information is then also prohibited.

We received a request from the NAACP asking for a printout of all CUA 4th year students who are African-American. May we comply with this request?

No. Race is not considered directory information, and release of this information, even for a benign purpose, would violate the law (Brown v. City of Oneonta, 106 F. 3d 1125 (2nd Cir. (1997)).

Do any special rules apply to transcripts or Social Security numbers?

Yes. CUA policy is that only the Registrar is authorized to issue transcripts, and an official transcript is issued only when requested by the student in writing. Parents of dependent students may obtain transcripts without written permission from the student. Social Security numbers are personally identifiable and contain private information. They must be treated as education records.

What rights does FERPA give to students?

FERPA grants students the right to inspect and review their student records, except for those portions of the records that are not considered education records. Thus, a student could not review:

  • portions of a record containing information about students other than the requesting student;
  • medical or mental health records; or
  • records connected with an application to attend CUA or a component unit of CUA if that application is denied.

In addition, the university is not required to provide a student access to his or her parents' financial records submitted in confidence or to confidential letters of recommendation to which the student has waived access.

What limits apply to the disclosure of information from a student's education record to a third party?

Records may be disclosed to a third party only if the student has given written permission for the additional disclosure, or if a legitimate educational interest has been articulated for disclosure to the third party and noted in the record. This limitation does not apply to directory information.

What if I receive a fax from a student requesting a copy of his/her education records?
CUA policy is to honor faxed requests for transcripts that contain the requesting student's authentic signature.

May I charge a copying fee for the student record?

Yes, in response to an authorized request for a copy of a student's education records, CUA may charge a reasonable fee for the copy.

How do I respond to a request for the education records of a deceased student?

At CUA, the practice is not to release the education records of a person who has died until 50 years after their death. Requests for exceptions to this practice should be directed to the Office of General Counsel.

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