Frequently Asked Questions

This section is designed to allow stakeholders easy access to all Frequently Asked Questions about student privacy.  All of the questions contained on this page have been tagged for easy browsing by either topic or audience.  This section is regularly updated as new questions are received.  You may also search the FAQs by using the search box on the top right of the page.

What is a threat assessment team?

A threat assessment team is a group of officials that convene to identify, evaluate, and address threats or potential threats to school security.  Threat assessment teams review incidents of threatening behavior by students (current and former), parents, school employees, or other individuals.  Some schools may need assistance in determining whether a health or safety emergency exists in order to know whether a disclosure may be made under FERPA’s health or safety emergency provision.  Accordingly, members of a threat assessment team might include officials who can assist in making such decisions, such as school principals, counselors, school law enforcement unit officials, as well as outside medical and mental health professionals and local law enforcement officers.

What is a “law enforcement unit record”?

Law enforcement unit records are records that are: (1) created by a law enforcement unit; (2) created for a law enforcement purpose; and (3) maintained by the law enforcement unit.(34 CFR § 99.8(b)(1)) Law enforcement unit records are not protected by FERPA because they are specifically excluded from the definition of “education records” and, thus, from the privacy protections afforded to parents and eligible students by FERPA.(34 CFR § 99.3, “Education Records”) Therefore, investigative reports and other records created and maintained by law enforcement units that meet this definition are not considered “education records” subject to FERPA and may be released subject to school policy, State law, and other applicable laws.

When members of a school’s law enforcement unit are school officials with access to students’ education records (or to PII contained in those records), they may not re-disclose the records or PII they receive as school officials under FERPA without appropriate consent or except as permitted under FERPA (34 CFR § 99.33), such as if the re-disclosure is to other school officials, or under the health and safety emergency exception. It is, therefore, advisable for law enforcement units to maintain law enforcement unit records separately from education records.

What is a “law enforcement unit”?

Under FERPA, “law enforcement unit” means any individual, office, department, division, or other component of a school, such as a unit of commissioned police officers or noncommissioned security guards, that is officially authorized or designated by that school or school district to (1) enforce any local, state, or federal law, or refer to appropriate authorities a matter for enforcement of any local, state, or federal law against any individual or organization other than the agency or institution itself; or (2) maintain the physical security and safety of the agency or institution.  See 34 CFR § 99.8(a)(1). 

Schools vary in who they authorize or designate to be their law enforcement unit, usually depending upon their size and resources.  Some larger school districts have their own fully equipped police units, while others have smaller security offices.  Other schools designate a vice principal or other school official to act as the law enforcement unit officer.  And other schools may utilize local police officers and SROs as their law enforcement officials.

What is an education program?

“Education program” is defined as any program principally engaged in the provision of education, including, but not limited to, early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, postsecondary education, special education, job training, career and technical education, and adult education, and any program that is administered by an educational agency or institution. 34 CFR § 99.3    

What is an education record?

"Education records" are records that are directly related to a student and that are maintained by an educational agency or institution or a party acting for or on behalf of the agency or institution. These records include but are not limited to grades, transcripts, class lists, student course schedules, health records (at the K-12 level), student financial information (at the postsecondary level), and student discipline files. The information may be recorded in any way, including, but not limited to, handwriting, print, computer media, videotape, audiotape, film, microfilm, microfiche, and e-mail.

Source: 34 CFR § 99.2 

What is FERPA?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that affords parents the right to have access to their children’s education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, and the right to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the education records. When a student turns 18 years old, or enters a postsecondary institution at any age, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student (“eligible student”). The FERPA statute is found at 20 U.S.C. § 1232g and the FERPA regulations are found at 34 CFR Part 99.

What must a consent to disclose education records contain?

FERPA requires that a consent for disclosure of education records be signed and dated, specify the records that may be disclosed, state the purpose of the disclosure, and identify the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure may be made.  34 CFR § 99.30.  As such, oral consent for disclosure of information from education records would not meet FERPA’s consent requirements.

What must educational agencies or institutions do to ensure that only school officials with a legitimate educational interest see protected education records?

An educational agency or institution must use reasonable methods to ensure that school officials obtain access to only those education records in which they have legitimate educational interests. An educational agency or institution that does not use physical or technological access controls must ensure that its administrative policy for controlling access to education records is effective and that it remains in compliance with the legitimate educational interest requirement.

What records are exempted from FERPA?

Exempted from the definition of education records are those records which are kept in the sole possession of the maker of the records and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the records. Once the contents or information recorded in sole possession records is disclosed to any party other than a temporary substitute for the maker of the records, those records become education records subject to FERPA. Generally sole possession records are of the nature to serve as a “memory jogger” for the creator of the record. For example, if a school official has taken notes regarding telephone or face to face conversations, such notes could be sole possession records depending on the nature and content of the notes.

What rights does a parent or eligible student have if, as a result of the hearing, the school decides that the information in the education record is not inaccurate or misleading?

The parent or eligible student has the right to place a statement in the record commenting on the contested information in the record or stating why he or she disagrees with the decision of the agency or institution. The agency or institution must maintain the statement with the contested part of the record for as long as the record is maintained disclose the statement whenever it discloses the portion of the record to which the statement relates.