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.

Can parents view a child’s post-secondary education record?

FERPA generally prohibits the nonconsensual disclosure of information derived from education records, except in certain specified circumstances. One of these exceptions permits the nonconsensual disclosure of information derived from education records to that student's parent if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student, nor the parent's status as custodial parent, is relevant to determining whether disclosure of information from the education records of eligible students to a parent without written consent is permissible under FERPA. If a student is claimed as a dependent by either parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision, absent a court order specifically prohibiting it.

Can schools disclose education records to community-based organizations performing outsourced tutoring programs using the school official exception?

Yes.  If a school chooses to outsource to a community-based organization a tutoring program that it would otherwise use school employees to provide, then the school may disclose the education records without the consent of the parents or eligible students under the school official exception. 

FERPA (§ 99.31(a)(1)(i)(B)) permits schools to outsource institutional services or functions that involve the disclosure of education records to contractors, consultants, volunteers, or other third parties provided that the outside party:

  1. Performs an institutional service or function for which the agency or institution would otherwise use employees;
  2. Is under the direct control of the agency or institution with respect to the use and maintenance of education records;
  3. Is subject to the requirements in § 99.33(a) that the personally identifiable information (PII) from education records may be used only for the purposes for which the disclosure was made, e.g., to promote school safety and the physical security of students, and governing the redisclosure of PII from education records; and
  4. Meets the criteria specified in the school or local educational agency’s (LEA’s) annual notification of FERPA rights for being a school official with a legitimate educational interest in the education records.

It is a best practice to enter into a written agreement with the community-based organization prior to sharing any PII from education records.

Can stepparents, grandparents, and other caregivers be considered parents under FERPA?

In some cases, a stepparent may be considered a “parent” under FERPA if the stepparent is present on a day-to-day basis with the natural parent and child and the other parent is absent from that home.  Conversely, a stepparent who is not present on a day-to-day basis in the home of the child does not have rights under FERPA with respect to the child’s education records.  A grandparent or other caregiver who is acting in the absence of the parent(s) may also be considered a “parent” under FERPA.

Source: 34 CFR § 99.3

Do students under the age of 18, not in college, and not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian have rights under FERPA?

FERPA does not specifically afford minors who are separated from their parents the rights that are afforded to parents and eligible students under the law.  However, schools may use their judgment in determining whether an unaccompanied minor is responsible enough to exercise certain privileges, such as inspecting and reviewing education records and providing consent for disclosure. 34 CFR § 99.5(b).

Does a school have to use only employees to staff its law enforcement unit?

The manner in which a school establishes its law enforcement unit is outside the scope of FERPA.  Accordingly, FERPA does not require a school to use only employees to staff its law enforcement unit.  Local police officers and other law enforcement personnel employed by local or state authorities also may serve as the “law enforcement unit” of an educational agency or institution. 

Does FERPA distinguish between School Resource Officers (SROs) and other local police officers who work in a school?

No. An SRO typically serves as an on-site law enforcement officer and as a liaison with the local police or sheriff’s department.  An SRO also works with teachers and school administrators to promote school safety and to help ensure physical security.  An SRO may be designated by the school as a “law enforcement unit” official under FERPA (§ 99.8).  However, in order for a school to disclose personally identifiable information (PII) from education records to an SRO, the SRO must be considered a “school official” under FERPA in accordance with § 99.31(a)(1)(i)(B) concerning outsourcing.  A school may only non-consensually disclose PII from students’ education records to its law enforcement unit if those individuals in the law enforcement unit meet the requirements set forth in FERPA’s school official exception or if some other FERPA exception to the general consent rule applies. 

A school must have direct control over an SRO’s maintenance and use of education records in providing SRO services in order for the SRO to be considered a school official.  Further, under the school official exception (as well as any FERPA exception to consent), SROs may only use the PII from education records for the purposes for which the disclosure was made, e.g., to promote school safety and the physical security of the students.  See §§ 99.31(a)(1)(i)(B)(3) and 99.33(a)(2).  In addition, SROs are subject to the redisclosure requirements of § 99.33(a).  This means that an SRO who is serving as a “school official” under FERPA may not disclose PII from education records to others, including other employees of his or her local police department who are not acting as school officials, without consent unless the redisclosure fits within one of the exceptions to FERPA’s consent requirement.