What is FERPA?

Is your son or daughter heading off to college in the fall? If so there will be many changes in your life. One of those changes will be you no longer have access to their educational records.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (or FERPA) grants students certain rights to privacy. Basically this means that you can not access their records like you used to in high school. This means you cannot call and check to see if your child is attending classes. Financial Aid cannot discuss your child’s aid package with you. You cannot access you child’s grades.

Your child is now legally an adult. They have access to their own records. FERPA guarantees this right. Your child may request their grades, their schedule, or any other record the institution has on file. If the intuition does not have immediate access to the records, they have up to 45 days to produce the document. These requests cannot be made over the phone or via e-mail. Many times a signature is needed to release the information.

This means you cannot call up the school and ask if your child is attending class. First, most colleges do not keep attendance records on file with the Registrar’s Office. Second, even if they did, FERPA would prohibit them from releasing them. The same goes for transcripts. You cannot obtain a copy of your child’s grades or their transcript. They have to obtain the copy, and then they can give it to you.

Just showing up with a note with your child signature on it probably won’t work either. The school has no way of knowing if that is your child’s signature, or if you just signed their name. If the school has online access for grades, please do not abuse your parental power. Remember, just because you know your child’s login information, does not mean you need to look things up. This is still a violation of FERPA. Your child has not given access to their records.

What can the schools tell you? Schools are allowed to release directory information on students to anyone who asks, unless the student as requested that all of their information be restricted. What is Directory Information? This is something that varies from school to school. Some places have a very liberal stance on it. These schools disclose everything that could be found in a phone book plus schedule information. Other schools play it safer. These schools will verify if the student is in fact enrolled, whether it is full time or part time, their program, and if they have graduated, but all other information is restricted. It is all at the school’s digression.

Your child can waive their rights to privacy with the school. Usually there is a waiver form they have to complete in person with a school official. You cannot bring this form in without your child being present. These forms give the school the right to discuss your child’s educational information with you. However, you need to be sure to read the fine print. Waivers usually state that no information will be given over the phone or via e-mail. You have to be in person, show proof of ID and sometimes even have a copy of the waiver form with you. The waiver does not give you the right to request transcripts, or to do anything on the student’s behalf. It only allows you discuss the student records.

College is a huge step for people. It is time where parents need to let go. Your child might not get it right. They may screw up and forget to file all their Financial Aid paperwork. They may not withdraw properly from a class, but it a mistake they will have to learn from. It is a time for them to grow up.

You may ask, “what if my child needs more supervision?” If your child still needs you to do all the thinking for them, and all the work for them, maybe they are not ready for college. It is a harsh thing to say, but if you keep doing everything for them, how will they learn? If they have a college education, but they can’t take care of themselves, how is that beneficial?

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