Protecting student data is a top priority for educational institutions, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that governs the use and disclosure of student educational records. Compliance with FERPA is essential to safeguarding student privacy and maintaining trust between institutions and their students.
However, navigating the intricacies of FERPA can be a daunting task. In this blog, we will outline 10 key steps that educational institutions can take to ensure they are in compliance with FERPA regulations, and protect the privacy of their students. From understanding the basics of FERPA to implementing best practices for data security, this guide will provide actionable insights for any institution looking to improve their FERPA compliance.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1974. FERPA was designed to protect the privacy of students' education records, and it gives parents and eligible students (those who are 18 years old or attending a postsecondary institution) certain rights with respect to those records.
Before FERPA, there were no federal laws governing the privacy of student records, and parents had little control over the information collected about their children. FERPA changed that by giving parents and eligible students the right to access and review their educational records, and the right to request corrections if they believe the records contain inaccurate or misleading information.
FERPA has been amended several times since it was first enacted, most notably by the 1994 amendment that allowed schools to disclose student records to law enforcement officials in certain situations, such as when there is a threat to the health or safety of a student or others. In 2008, FERPA was further amended to allow schools to disclose information from a student's education record to outside parties without obtaining prior written consent under certain circumstances, such as when the disclosure is made to a contractor or consultant who needs access to the information to perform a service for the school.
Today, FERPA remains an important federal law that helps protect the privacy of student education records and ensures that parents and eligible students have control over their personal information.
In this section, we will outline 10 key steps that educational institutions can take to ensure they are in compliance with FERPA regulations. These steps range from understanding the basics of FERPA to implementing best practices for data security. By following these steps, institutions can strengthen their compliance efforts and protect the privacy of their students.
Raising awareness about FERPA compliance is crucial for protecting student privacy. To achieve this, institutions can provide FERPA training, communicate with students and parents, leverage technology, collaborate with other institutions, and regularly review and update FERPA policies and procedures.
In addition to the steps mentioned above, it's important for educational institutions to create a culture of FERPA compliance. This means that all faculty, staff, and administrators understand the importance of protecting student privacy and are committed to following FERPA regulations.
This culture can be fostered by promoting transparency and accountability, providing resources and support to those responsible for FERPA compliance, and recognizing and rewarding compliance efforts.
Before an educational institution can begin to take steps to ensure FERPA compliance, it must first confirm that the law applies to its operations. FERPA applies to all educational agencies and institutions that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education. This includes public schools and school districts, colleges and universities, and any other institution that receives federal funding.
It's important to note that FERPA applies to both paper and electronic records, and it covers a broad range of student information, including grades, transcripts, disciplinary records, and medical records. In addition, FERPA provides parents and eligible students with the right to access and review their education records, and the right to request that inaccurate or misleading information be corrected.
If an institution is unsure whether FERPA applies to its operations, it can consult with legal counsel or the U.S. Department of Education for guidance. Once an institution confirms that FERPA applies, it can begin to take the necessary steps to ensure compliance and protect the privacy of its students.
To ensure FERPA compliance, it's essential to understand the types of information that the law protects. FERPA covers educational records that are directly related to a student and that are maintained by an educational institution or by a party acting on behalf of the institution. These records can include a student's grades, transcripts, disciplinary records, medical records, and any other information that directly relates to the student's educational experience.
FERPA protects personally-identifiable information (PII) related to a student's education records, which includes information that can be used to identify the student, such as the student's name, address, social security number, and other unique identifiers.
In addition to traditional PII, FERPA also protects sensitive information such as grades, disciplinary records, and medical records that may not directly identify a student, but are still linked to their education. Institutions must ensure that access to PII is restricted to authorized individuals who have a legitimate educational interest, and that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect against unauthorized access or disclosure. Understanding the scope of PII protections under FERPA is crucial for institutions to ensure they are in compliance with the law and are protecting the privacy of their students.
Directory information is a subset of personally-identifiable information that institutions may disclose without obtaining prior consent from parents or eligible students. Directory information includes basic student information such as the student's name, address, telephone number, email address, photograph, date and place of birth, major field of study, and dates of attendance.
Institutions must provide notice to parents and eligible students of the types of directory information that may be disclosed, and must give them the opportunity to opt-out of such disclosures. Institutions must also ensure that directory information is limited to legitimate educational purposes and is not used for commercial or non-educational purposes. While FERPA allows institutions to disclose directory information without prior consent, it's important for institutions to balance the need for disclosure with the privacy interests of their students.
It's important to note that information can be both directory information and personally-identifiable information (PII). For example, a student's name and email address may be considered both directory information and PII. In these cases, institutions must take extra care to ensure that the information is protected appropriately.
While FERPA allows for the disclosure of directory information without prior consent, institutions must still ensure that access to this information is limited to authorized individuals who have a legitimate educational interest. Additionally, institutions must take steps to ensure that any disclosure of directory information that also constitutes PII is done in a manner that protects the privacy of the student. By understanding the intersection of directory information and PII, educational institutions can ensure that they are taking a comprehensive approach to protecting the privacy of their students.
FERPA provides certain rights to parents and eligible students with respect to their education records. These rights include:
By understanding the rights that FERPA provides, educational institutions can ensure that they are respecting the privacy of their students and complying with federal regulations. Institutions must provide clear and accessible information to parents and eligible students about their FERPA rights and how to exercise them.
Educational institutions are required to obtain written consent from parents or eligible students before disclosing education records under most circumstances. However, there are exceptions to this requirement that institutions must be aware of. These exceptions include:
It's important for institutions to understand the exceptions to FERPA and ensure that any disclosures made fall within the scope of these exceptions. Institutions must also keep records of all disclosures made under these exceptions and ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect the privacy of their students.
Selecting compliant vendors is a critical step for educational institutions in protecting student privacy and ensuring FERPA compliance. It's important to recognize that vendors can have access to sensitive student information, and institutions must take appropriate steps to protect that information from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure. By conducting due diligence, obtaining written assurances, implementing safeguards, conducting audits, and reviewing contracts, institutions can ensure that they are working with vendors who are committed to FERPA compliance and who will protect student data as required by law.
In addition to the steps mentioned above, institutions should also consider including FERPA compliance requirements in their requests for proposals (RFPs) and other procurement documents. This can help ensure that vendors understand the importance of FERPA compliance from the outset and can help streamline the vendor selection process. Ultimately, by carefully selecting and monitoring their vendors, educational institutions can help ensure that they are meeting their FERPA obligations and are protecting the privacy of their students.
When sharing information between vendors and organizations, it's important to take steps to protect the privacy and security of the information. Here are some tips for sharing information in a compliant manner:
By following these tips, educational institutions can share information with vendors in a compliant manner and protect the privacy and security of student information.
Providing FERPA compliance training to staff members is not only important for ensuring that institutions are in compliance with the law, but it is also essential for building a culture of privacy within the institution.
When staff members understand the importance of protecting student privacy, they are more likely to be diligent and conscientious in handling student information. This can help to create a sense of trust between the institution, students, and parents, and can help to build a positive reputation for the institution.
FERPA compliance training can also provide an opportunity for educational institutions to assess and improve their data security practices. By educating staff members on best practices for data security, institutions can help to ensure that they are protecting student data from a wide range of potential threats, including cyberattacks, identity theft, and other unauthorized disclosures. Through regular training and evaluation, institutions can continuously improve their data security practices and ensure that they are providing the highest level of protection for their students' personal information.
To comply with FERPA, educational institutions must have policies and procedures in place that govern the handling, storage, and sharing of student information. These policies should be clear, concise, and easy to understand, and should address key areas such as data security, access controls, and sharing of information.
Key stakeholders, including staff members, students, parents, and legal counsel, should be involved in the development and review of policies and procedures to ensure they meet the needs of all parties involved.
In addition to developing policies and procedures, institutions must regularly review and update them to ensure they remain effective and compliant with current regulations and best practices. Policies and procedures should be communicated to staff members, students, and parents to ensure that everyone is aware of their obligations and responsibilities. By implementing FERPA-compliant policies and procedures, educational institutions can help to ensure that they are protecting student privacy and complying with federal regulations, while also building a culture of privacy and data security within the institution.
Encrypting files and emails containing student information is crucial for protecting student privacy and complying with FERPA regulations. Educational institutions must identify sensitive data that requires encryption, select appropriate encryption tools, establish key management policies and procedures, and train staff members on how to use encryption tools effectively.
By encrypting files and emails containing sensitive student information, educational institutions can ensure that this information remains secure and protected from unauthorized access or disclosure.
This can help build trust between the institution and its students and parents while also ensuring compliance with FERPA regulations. It is essential to regularly review and update encryption practices to ensure that they remain effective and compliant with current regulations and best practices.
In addition to encrypting files and emails, there are other prevention tools that educational institutions can implement to protect student privacy and comply with FERPA regulations. Here are some key tools to consider:
By implementing these prevention tools, educational institutions can help to protect student privacy and comply with FERPA regulations. It is important to regularly review and update these tools to ensure that they remain effective and aligned with current regulations and best practices. With a comprehensive approach to data privacy and security, institutions can ensure that they are providing the highest level of protection for their students' personal information.
By implementing AllVoices in your learning institution, staff members and students can report incidents of FERPA violations, privacy breaches, and other issues that may compromise student privacy without fear of retaliation. This can help to create a culture of accountability and transparency within the institution and provide a safe and secure way for individuals to report concerns.
In addition to providing a platform for reporting incidents, AllVoices also allows educational institutions to track and manage incident reports, analyze trends and patterns, and provide support to those who have reported incidents. This can help institutions to identify potential issues and take proactive measures to prevent them from happening in the future.