Robbins: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – info |

Robbins: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – info

Special to the DailyRohn K. Robbins is an attorney in Eagle County, Colorado.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” If you’ve got a youngster heading off to college in the fall, listen up. You’ll want to get up close and personal with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA.

When the kid’s college tells you they can’t discuss junior with you ” you’re just the parent, after all ” rest assured your nearly-adult child hasn’t been greasing palms to buy the administration’s silence.

No, instead of industriously undertaking to keep you in the dark, he or she can simply blame the law; FERPA to be precise. “My grades are great, Mom and Dad. I promise! I just can’t let you in on it. My lips are sealed under penalty of federal law.”

Well, not exactly.

FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is a privacy measure meant to protect student education records. The law ” enacted in 1974 ” applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the United States Department of Education. That means it applies to nearly every college in the country.

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FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. That’s how you logged into to your kidling’s high school records all these years. But things change when your child turns 18 or attends school beyond the high school level.

Rights which were previously yours transfer to the child. Students to whom the rights have transferred are known in the bureaucratic legalspeak of the Act as “eligible students.” Eligible for what?

Privacy, even if Mom and Dad are footing the bills.

Notice the disjunctive “or,” rather than the conjunctive “and” in what immediately follows:

Under the Act, parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student’s education records maintained by the school. Parents or eligible students have the right to request that the school correct records which he or she believes to be inaccurate or misleading. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or the eligible student then has the right to a formal hearing.

If the school still decides not to amend the record, the parent or the eligible student has the right to place a statement within the record setting forth his or her view about the contested information.

Schools may disclose, without consent, certain statistical information about the student including honors and awards and dates of attendance. Parents or eligible students must be given reasonable notice if a student is to be included in a school directory and must be given an opportunity, upon request, to be excluded.

Now for the good news. With written permission of the eligible student, the school may disclose the student’s educational records to the person or persons he or she designates. That permission is, however, narrowly construed.

Just because the student gives you permission to have access to his or her billing records, that doesn’t open up the universe to you. You can’t go scrounging willy-nilly through his or her educational room, so to speak. His or her grades and all other educational records which may be cached away in the tidy recesses of academia remain his or her private preserve. Get used to it.

Even if he or she doesn’t always act like one, your college student is an adult and, being an adult, is entitled to adult rights and privileges, the right to be his or her own private person among them. The tension, of course, often arises when the footers-of-the-bills want a little access to make sure the investment is paying off and junior’s budding out all over with a sense of independence.

Worth noting is that not all college records are “educational records.” Campus police records and medical records are among those not covered by the act. At least some types of non-educational records may, however, be covered by other privacy acts. See last week’s column about HIPAA, for example.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was enacted to protect the privacy of student educational records. Respecting that privacy may, however, involve some growing pains, fellow helicopter parents.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law.

He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926.4461 or at his e-mail address:

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