The privacy of student educational records
Here in the LAS Student Academic Affairs office, our advisers sometimes hear from parents who want to talk with us about how their son or daughter is doing in school. When we receive one of these calls, it’s an opportunity to explain the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.
Because our institution receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education, we are subject to this federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records. FERPA generally gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records, but parents and students are sometimes surprised to learn that these rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high-school level. We are therefore required to obtain written permission from our students in order to share specific information with a parent, or to release information from a student’s record to anyone else.
During our daily walk-in hours, we will sometimes see an LAS student who comes in with his or her parent to talk with a dean or advisor. Often these visits concern fairly serious issues—dealing with absences caused by an illness or injury, for instance, or discussing academic problems or the possibility of an academic withdrawal. We always begin these conversations by greeting both the student and the parent in our reception area, and explaining to the parent that we would like a few moments to talk with the student individually. Our advisers then privately explain the student’s rights under FERPA, and provide him or her with a consent form where students may designate specific individuals with whom we are authorized to discuss their academic record. We explain the student is not obligated to involve the parent, and also make it clear that we will not initiate contact with a parent without informing the student first. Once student provides consent, we return to the reception area to invite the parent to join the conversation.
Of course, most students who bring their parents to the LAS student office want their parents involved in some way, and this can be a good thing for all concerned. It's often beneficial to have the parent present, as he or she sometimes asks questions that the student won’t. Still, it is important to convey to both the student and the parent that the student is the chief client, and the primary driver of the process.
You can learn more about FERPA on the U.S. Department of Education website.
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