Vail Law: Why can’t I see my kid’s college grades?
August 17, 2010
If you’ve got a young ‘un heading off to college, listen up. You’ll want to get up close and personal with FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
When the kid’s college tells you they can’t discuss junior with you – you’re just the parent and the checkbook 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.
“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.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is, in fact, a federal law. Enacted in 1974, the law is a privacy measure meant to protect student education records. The measure applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the United States Department of Education.
The law gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. So far so good. That’s how you logged into to your kid’s high school records all these years. But things change when your child turns 18 or attends school beyond the high school level. When the kid starts college, these rights which were previously yours, transfer to the child. Students to whom the rights have transferred are known in bureaucratic legalspeak as “eligible students.” Eligible for what? Well, eligible for their privacy, even if Mom and Dad are footing the bills.
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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.
Each of these rights belongs either to the parent or the eligible student. Generally, before the age of 18 and/or before college, these rights belong to the parent. After the age of 18, these rights belong exclusively to your young adult.
Now for the good news. With the written permission of the eligible student, the school may disclose the student’s educational records to the person or persons he or she designates, including parents. The 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. 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.
Even if he or she doesn’t always act like one, your 18-year-old / 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. Think about HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), for example.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was enacted to protect the privacy of student educational records. Respecting that privacy, fellow helicopter parents, may involve some growing pains.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECO TV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.