Montana State University
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A FERPA Primer

In 1974, Congress enacted the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act--known as "FERPA. The Act imposes on any school, college or university that receives federal funds, restrictions over the release of student records.

Student Right of Access to Educational Records

Students at Montana State University may have access to their educational records. This includes nearly all information maintained by the university which is directly related to the student. In most cases, an educational record that's "directly related to a student," consists of grades and attendance information.

Student Record Protection

FERPA protects a student's educational record, regardless of how the record is maintained and who maintains it. An educational record consists of paper as well as electronic data. Besides grades, it typically includes test scores, comments, evaluations and similar assessments about a student, maintained by an instructor, counselor or any other school official.

FERPA prohibits any person connected with the institution--including administrators and faculty--from improperly disclosing student information.

Consent to Release Required

At institutions of higher education, students may authorize the release of their educational records--but the student has the exclusive right to decide whether or not to authorize the release.

This means that, in most cases, even a student's parent may not demand the release of the student's educational record.

Moreover, students' access to their own educational records--as well as the right to limit disclosure of those records--continues even after they graduate or otherwise leave the institution.

Exceptions

There are some circumstances where educational records may be released without a student's permission. For instance, records may be disclosed to other school officials--including faculty, administrative staff and other employees, within the institution--whom the institution has determined to have legitimate educational interests.

MSU has designated some records as "directory information" and, unless a student has requested that these records not be released, directory information may be released without student consent. MSU has designated the following as directory information:

  1. name, campus address, home address, telephone listing and campus e-mail address.
  2. state of residence
  3. age, date, and place of birth
  4. sex and marital status
  5. name of advisor
  6. name and address of parent(s)
  7. major field of study, including the college, division, department, or program in which the student is enrolled
  8. classification as a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, or graduate student, or by number referring to such cases
  9. participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  10. weight and height of members of athletic teams
  11. dates of attendance and graduation, and degrees received
  12. the most recent educational institutional attended
  13. honors and awards received, including selection to a Dean's list or honorary organization, and the grade point average of students selected
  14. photographic, video or electronic images of students taken and maintained by the University

However, before releasing such information without student consent, you should verify in Banner or call the Registrar's Office to make sure the student has not requested under FERPA that his or her records be kept confidential. An institution may also release educational records in response to either a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena. Under limited circumstances, records may be released to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency--but only if the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.

Letters of Recommendation

Occasionally, a school official may be asked, or volunteer, to write a letter of recommendation on behalf of a student.

This usually wouldn't require the student's written release or authorization. But if the letter includes information that falls within FERPA's definition of educational records--such as grade point average or class ranking--the student's written consent to include such information would be necessary.

Enforcement

The U.S. Department of Education is charged with enforcing FERPA and it has created a detailed complaint procedure for those who feel an institution has violated their FERPA rights. To avoid a complaint being filed against MSU, anyone with access to students' educational records must use care when sharing records to comply with the FERPA requirements.

To ensure that student records are not accessible to other students or unauthorized individuals, faculty and staff should exercise caution in the way student records are displayed, maintained and released.

Posting Grades and Returning Student Work

In the past, publicly posting grades or test scores on bulletin boards or an office door was common practice. It was also common to put student work in a box for students to pick up. Under FERPA, these practices are prohibited unless you have the consent of the student. The Department of Education has stated that FERPA does not allow posting grades associated with a student's name, social security number, GID. Even using a portion of the numbers in such postings without student consent isn't allowed. The best way to deliver grades to students is through the use of the password protected software contained in WEB-CT. Assigning individual numbers to student for the purposes of posting grades is also acceptable as long as the numbers are known only to the student and the faculty/TA, or other appropriate university officials. Other methods may be acceptable as long as they adequately protect the release of the grade to others.

Some faculty have asked students to consent to posting grades (last 4 digits of GID recommended) and, even, returning student work in a public place. Most, and sometimes all, students will consent. However, it is important to remember that every student has the right not to consent to such an arrangement and therefore alternative methods of delivery -- through the department office, during advising hours, in class -- should be arranged.

If you receive a request for a student's educational records or if you have any questions about FERPA, contact Legal Counsel, 994-4570 or the Registrar's Office, 994-2601. It takes just a minute and can really be the "stitch in time."