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 “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 is the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)?

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) applies to the programs and activities of a state education agency (SEA), local education agency (LEA), or other recipient of funds under any program funded by the U.S. Department of Education.  It governs the administration to students of a survey, analysis, or evaluation that concerns one or more of the following eight protected areas:

  1. political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent;
  2. mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;
  3. sex behavior or attitudes;
  4. illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;
  5. critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
  6. legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers;
  7. religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent; or
  8. income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).

PPRA also concerns marketing surveys and other areas of student privacy, parental access to information, and the administration of certain physical examinations to minors.  The rights under PPRA transfer from the parents to a student who is 18 years old or an emancipated minor under state law.

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 policies must a local education agency (LEA) develop under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)?

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) requires that local education agencies (LEAs), in consultation with parents, develop the following local policies concerning student privacy, parents access to information, and administration of certain physical examinations to minors:

  • The right of a parent of a student to inspect, upon the request of the parent, a survey created by a third party before the survey is administered or distributed by a school to a student, and any applicable procedures for granting a request by a parent for reasonable access to the survey within a reasonable period of time after the requires is received;
  • Arrangements to protect student privacy that are provided by the LEA in the event of the administration or distribution of a survey to a student containing one or more of the eight protected areas of information;
  • The right of a parent or student to inspect, upon the request of the parent, any instructional material used as part of the educational curriculum for the student, and any applicable procedures for granting a request by a parent for reasonable access to instructional material within a reasonable period of time after the request is received;
  • The administration of physical examinations or screenings that the school or LEA may administer to a student;
  • The collection, disclosure, or use of personal information collected from students for the purpose of marketing or for selling that information, or otherwise providing that information to others for that purpose, including arrangements to protect student privacy that are provided by the LEA in the event of such collection, disclosure, or use;
  • The right of a parent of a student to inspect, upon request, any instrument used in the collection of personal information (a student or parent’s first and last name, a home or other physical address, a telephone number, or a Social Security identification number) before the instrument is administered or distributed to a student, and any applicable procedures for granting a request by a parent for reasonable access to such instrument within a reasonable period of time after the request is received.

A model PPRA general notification for use by LEAs may also be obtained on SPPO’s website at: Model Notification of Rights Under PPRA

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.