The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Guidance for Parents
The following guidance provides parents with general information about the Family Educational
Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This document is a compilation and update of various letters
and guidance documents previously issued that respond to a variety of questions about FERPA.
While this guidance reflects our best and most current interpretation of applicable FERPA
requirements, it does not supersede the statute or regulations. We will attempt to update this
document from time to time in response to questions and concerns.
FERPA is a Federal law that is administered by the Family Policy Compliance Office (Office) in
the U.S. Department of Education (Department). 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99. FERPA
applies to educational agencies and institutions (e.g., schools) that receive funding under any
program administered by the Department. Private and parochial schools at the elementary and
secondary levels generally do not receive such funding and are, therefore, not subject to FERPA.
FERPA gives custodial and noncustodial parents alike certain rights with respect to their
children’s education records, unless a school is provided with evidence that there is a court order
or State law that specifically provides to the contrary. Otherwise, both custodial and
noncustodial parents have the right to access their children’s education records, the right to seek
to have the records amended, the right to consent to disclosure of personally identifiable
information from the records (except in certain circumstances specified in the FERPA
regulations, some of which are discussed below), and the right to file a complaint with the
Department. When a student reaches 18 years of age or attends a postsecondary institution, he or
she becomes an “eligible student,” and all rights under FERPA transfer from the parent to the
student. The term “education records” is defined as those records that contain information
directly related to a student and which are maintained by an educational agency or institution or
by a party acting for the agency or institution.
FERPA generally prohibits the improper disclosure of personally identifiable information
derived from education records. Thus, information that an official obtained through personal
knowledge or observation, or has heard orally from others, is not protected under FERPA. This
remains applicable even if education records exist which contain that information, unless the
official had an official role in making a determination that generated a protected education
Under FERPA, a school is not generally required to maintain particular education records or
education records that contain specific information. Rather, a school is required to provide
certain privacy protections for those education records that it does maintain. Also, unless there is
an outstanding request by a parent to inspect and review education records, FERPA permits the
school to destroy such records without notice to the parent.
Access to Education Records
Under FERPA, a school must provide a parent with an opportunity to inspect and review his or
her child’s education records within 45 days following its receipt of a request. A school is
required to provide a parent with copies of education records, or make other arrangements, if a
failure to do so would effectively prevent the parent from obtaining access to the records. A case
in point would be a situation in which the parent does not live within commuting distance of the
A school is not generally required by FERPA to provide a parent with access to school calendars
or general notices such as announcements of parent-teacher meetings or extra-curricular
activities. That type of information is not generally directly related to an individual student and,
therefore, does not meet the definition of an education record.
Under FERPA, a school is not required to provide information that is not maintained or to create
education records in response to a parent’s request. Accordingly, a school is not required to
provide a parent with updates on his or her child’s progress in school unless such information
already exists in the form of an education record.
Amendment of Education Records
Under FERPA, a parent has the right to request that inaccurate or misleading information in his
or her child’s education records be amended. While a school is not required to amend education
records in accordance with a parent’s request, the school is required to consider the request. If
the school decides not to amend a record in accordance with a parent’s request, the school must
inform the parent of his or her right to a hearing on the matter. If, as a result of the hearing, the
school still decides not to amend the record, the parent has the right to insert a statement in the
record setting forth his or her views. That statement must remain with the contested part of the
student’s record for as long as the record is maintained.
However, while the FERPA amendment procedure may be used to challenge facts that are
inaccurately recorded, it may not be used to challenge a grade, an opinion, or a substantive
decision made by a school about a student. FERPA was intended to require only that schools
conform to fair recordkeeping practices and not to override the accepted standards and
procedures for making academic assessments, disciplinary rulings, or placement determinations.
Thus, while FERPA affords parents the right to seek to amend education records which contain
inaccurate information, this right cannot be used to challenge a grade, an individual’s opinion, or
a substantive decision made by a school about a student. Additionally, if FERPA’s amendment
procedures are not applicable to a parent’s request for amendment of education records, the
school is not required under FERPA to hold a hearing on the matter.
Disclosure of Education Records
Under FERPA, a school may not generally disclose personally identifiable information from a
minor student's education records to a third party unless the student’s parent has provided written
consent. However, there are a number of exceptions to FERPA's prohibition against nonconsensual
disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records. Under
these exceptions, schools are permitted to disclose personally identifiable information from
education records without consent, though they are not required to do so by FERPA. Following
is general information regarding some of these exceptions.
One of the exceptions to the prior written consent requirement in FERPA allows “school
officials,” including teachers, within a school to obtain access to personally identifiable
information contained in education records provided the school has determined that they have
“legitimate educational interest” in the information. Although the term “school official” is not
defined in the statute or regulations, this Office generally interprets the term to include parties
such as: a teacher; administrator; board member; support or clerical staff; attorney; nurse and
health staff; counselor; human resources staff; information systems specialist; school security
personnel; and a contractor, consultant, volunteer or other party to whom the school has
outsourced institutional services or functions.
A school may disclose personally identifiable information from education records without
consent to a “school official” under this exception only if the school has first determined that the
official has a “legitimate educational interest” in obtaining access to the information for the
school. A school that allows school officials to obtain access to personally identifiable
information contained in education records under this exception must include in its annual
notification of FERPA rights a specification of its criteria for determining who constitutes a
“school official” and what constitutes “legitimate educational interests.” A school official
generally has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record
in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibility.
Another exception permits a school to disclose personally identifiable information from a
student's education records, without consent, to another school in which the student seeks or
intends to enroll. The sending school may make the disclosure if it has included in its annual
notification of rights a statement that it forwards education records in such circumstances.
Otherwise, the school must make a reasonable attempt to notify the parent in advance of making
the disclosure, unless the parent or eligible student has initiated the disclosure. The school must
also provide a parent with a copy of the records that were released if requested by the parent.
FERPA permits a school non-consensually to disclose personally identifiable information from a
student's education records when such information has been appropriately designated as
directory information. "Directory information" is defined as information contained in the
education records of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of
privacy if disclosed. Directory information could include information such as the student's
name, address, e-mail address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study,
participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of
athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, the most recent previous
educational agency or institution attended, photograph, grade level (such as 11th grade or junior
year), and enrollment status (full-time or part-time).
A school may disclose directory information without consent if it has given public notice of the
types of information it has designated as directory information, the parent's right to restrict the
disclosure of such information, and the period of time within which a parent has to notify the
school that he or she does not want any or all of those types of information designated as
directory information. Also, FERPA does not require a school to notify parents individually of
the types of information it has designated as directory information. Rather, the school may
provide this notice by any means likely to inform parents of the types of information it has
designated as directory information.
FERPA also permits a school to disclose personally identifiable information from education
records of an “eligible student” (a student age 18 or older or enrolled in a postsecondary
institution at any age) to his or her parents if the student is a “dependent student” as that term is
defined in Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code. Generally, if either parent has claimed the
student as a dependent on the parent’s most recent income tax statement, the school may nonconsensually
disclose the student’s education records to both parents.
There are several other exceptions to FERPA’s prohibition against non-consensual disclosure of
personally identifiable information from education records, some of which are briefly mentioned
below. Under certain conditions (specified in the FERPA regulations, 34 CFR Part 99), a school
may non-consensually disclose personally identifiable information from education records:
• to authorized representatives of the Comptroller General of the United States, the
Attorney General of the United States, the U.S. Secretary of Education, and State and
local educational authorities for audit or evaluation of Federal or State supported
education programs, or for the enforcement of or compliance with Federal legal
requirements that relate to those programs;
• in connection with financial aid for which the student has applied or received;
• to state and local authorities pursuant to a State statute concerning the juvenile justice
system and the system’s ability to effectively serve the student whose records are being
• to organizations conducting studies for or on behalf of the school making the disclosure
for the purposes of administering predictive tests, administering student aid programs, or
• to comply with a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena; and
• in connection with a health or safety emergency.
As stated above, the conditions specified in the FERPA regulations have to be met before a
school may non-consensually disclose personally identifiable information from education
records in connection with any of the exceptions mentioned above.
Annual Notification of FERPA Rights
Under FERPA, a school must annually notify parents of students in attendance of their rights
under FERPA. The annual notification must include information regarding a parent’s right to
inspect and review his or her child’s education records, the right to seek to amend the records,
the right to consent to disclosure of personally identifiable information from the records (except
in certain circumstances), and the right to file a complaint with the Office regarding an alleged
failure by a school to comply with FERPA. The school must also inform parents of its
definitions of the terms "school official" and "legitimate educational interest."
FERPA does not require a school to notify parents individually of their rights under FERPA.
Rather, the school may provide the annual notification by any means likely to inform parents of
their rights. Thus, the annual notification may be published by various means, including any of
the following: in a student handbook; in a notice to parents; in a calendar of events; on the
school’s website (though this should not be the exclusive means of notification); in the local
newspaper; or posted in a central location at the school or various locations throughout the
school. Additionally, some schools include their directory information notice as part of the
annual notice of rights under FERPA.
Law Enforcement Units and Law Enforcement Unit Records
A “law enforcement unit” means any individual, office, department, division or other component
of a school, such as a unit of commissioned police officers or non-commissioned security guards,
that is officially authorized or designated by the school to: enforce any local, State, or Federal
law, or refer to appropriate authorities a matter for enforcement of any law against any individual
or organization; or to maintain the physical security and safety of the school. The law
enforcement unit does not lose its status as a law enforcement unit if it also performs other, nonlaw
enforcement functions for the school, including investigation of incidents or conduct that
constitutes or leads to a disciplinary action or proceeding against a student.
“Law enforcement unit records” (i.e., records created by the law enforcement unit, created for a
law enforcement purpose, and maintained by the law enforcement unit) are not “education
records” subject to the privacy protections of FERPA. As such, the law enforcement unit may
refuse to provide a parent with an opportunity to inspect and review law enforcement unit
records, and it may disclose law enforcement unit records to third parties without the parent’s
prior written consent. However, education records, or personally identifiable information from
education records, which the school shares with the law enforcement unit do not lose their
protected status as education records because they are shared with the law enforcement unit.
Complaints of Alleged Failures to Comply with FERPA
FERPA vests the rights it affords in the parent of a student. The statute does not provide for
these rights to be vested in a third party who has not suffered an alleged violation of their rights
under FERPA. Thus, we require that a parent have "standing," i.e., have suffered an alleged
violation of his or her rights under FERPA, in order to file a complaint.
The Office may investigate those timely complaints that contain specific allegations of fact
giving reasonable cause to believe that a school has violated FERPA. A timely complaint is
defined as one that is submitted to the Office within 180 days of the date that the complainant
knew or reasonably should have known of the alleged violation. Complaints that do not meet
FERPA’s threshold requirement for timeliness are not investigated.
If we receive a timely complaint that contains a specific allegation of fact giving reasonable
cause to believe that a school has violated FERPA, we may initiate an administrative
investigation into the allegation in accordance with procedures outlined in the FERPA
regulations. If a determination is made that a school violated FERPA, the school and the
complainant are so advised, and the school is informed of the steps it must take to come into
compliance with the law. The investigation is closed when voluntary compliance is achieved.
Please note that a parent should state his or her allegations as clearly and succinctly as possible.
To aid us in efficiently processing allegations, we ask that a parent only include supporting
documentation that is relevant to the allegations provided. Otherwise, we may return the
documentation and request clarification. This Office does not have the resources to review
voluminous documents and materials to determine whether an allegation of a violation of
FERPA by a school is included. A parent may obtain a complaint form by calling (202) 260-
3887. For administrative and privacy reasons, we do not discuss individual allegations and cases
via email. Please mail completed complaint forms to the Office (address below) for review and
any appropriate action.
Complaint Regarding Access
If a parent believes that a school has violated FERPA by failing to comply with the parent’s
request for access to his or her child’s education records, the parent may complete a FERPA
complaint form and should include the following specific information: the date of the request for
access to the student's education records; the name of the school official to whom the request
was made (a dated copy of any written request to the school should be provided, if possible); the
response of the school official, if any; and the specific nature of the information requested.
Complaint Regarding Amendment
If a parent believes that a school has violated FERPA by failing to provide the parent with an
opportunity to seek amendment of inaccurate information in his or her child’s education records
or failed to offer the parent an opportunity for a hearing on the matter, the parent may complete a
FERPA complaint form and should include the following specific information: the date of the
request for amendment of the student's education records; the name of the school official to
whom the request was made (a dated copy of any written request to the school should be
provided, if possible); the response of the school official, if any; the specific nature of the
information for which amendment was requested; and the evidence provided to the school to
support the assertion that such information is inaccurate.
Complaint Regarding Disclosure
If a parent believes that a school has violated FERPA by improperly disclosing personally
identifiable information from his or her child’s education records, the parent may complete a
FERPA complaint form and should include the following specific information: the date the
alleged improper disclosure occurred or the date the parent learned of the disclosure; the name of
the school official who made the disclosure, if that is known; the third party to whom the
education records were disclosed; and the specific nature of the information disclosed.
This guidance document is designed to provide parents of minor students with some basic
information regarding FERPA and their rights, and to address some of the basic questions most
frequently asked by parents. You can review the FERPA regulations, frequently asked
questions, significant opinions of the Office, and other information regarding FERPA at our
Website as follows:
If, after reading this guidance document, you have questions regarding FERPA that are not
addressed here, you may write to the Office for additional guidance at the following address:
Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202-8520