The Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA), enacted in 1974, is a federal law designed to safeguard the privacy of student records. Under FERPA, current and former students have the right to:
- Inspect and review their education records.
- Seek to have their records amended.
- Limit disclosure of information from their records.
Educational institutions that receive funds under any program administered by the U.S. Secretary of Education are required by law to comply with FERPA.
Under FERPA, a school official is defined as any staff or faculty member who has a legitimate educational interest. Access to student records is based on a demonstrated need to know.
What is an "education record"?
Under FERPA an "education record" includes information that personally identifies a student as well as information, in any medium, that pertains to the student and is maintained and shared by the institution, including anecdotal information.
Information that can be released
"Directory information" is information contained in the student record that generally would not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy. At UW Tacoma this information includes:
- Telephone number
- Email address
- Dates of attendance, major and degrees/honors earned
- Full- or part-time status
- Last institution attended
Students have the right to request that the University not release their Directory Information. Students who choose to exercise this option are required to conduct all of their university business in person with photo ID.
Information that cannot be released without consent
The following information should never be given out without the written consent of the student:
- Date of birth
- Schedule of classes or number of credits enrolled
- Grades or grade point average
- Social Security number
- Emergency contact information
Important things to remember:
- You are considered a school official and required by law to take every precaution to protect the privacy of students.
- Student papers and exams should be handled as confidential and should not be left out where there is any chance others may have access to them.
- When preparing an email distribution list — unless you have written permission of the student to publish their email — be certain you use a listserv or blind copy, to prevent inadvertently publishing the email address of a student who has requested that we not disclose his/her Directory Information.
- Do not give a student’s graded paper or exam to anyone other than the student without written permission from the student.
- Be cautious about what information you share and with whom you share it, particularly over the phone.
- Any anecdotal information you share with others becomes part of the student’s record.
- You are not required to — nor should you — speak to special investigators who are seeking information about students who have applied for government positions. Feel free to refer them to the Office of the Registrar.
Writing a letter of recommendation may require written permission from the student allowing a faculty member to disclose confidential information from a student’s educational records to a third party. It is recommended that before writing a letter of recommendation that contains confidential information, i.e. grades, GPA, class rank, etc, faculty receive the student’s written permission to specifically release this information to a third party. Personal observations about a student may be disclosed with the student’s consent.
The university is required to prevent improper disclosure of information. Although FERPA authorizes the release of information, we are seldom required to release any information. If you have any questions about FERPA, please contact the Office of the Registrar at 253-692-4913.
When in doubt ... don’t give it out!