The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act [“FERPA”] is often described as a federal law governing the privacy rights of students in educational institutions funded by the Department of Education. While this description is accurate, FERPA also contains mechanisms parents and students can use to amend educational records.
While FERPA is a bit vague on the issue of amending the records of student maintained by an educational institution, the regulations governing FERPA’s application to real world situations published by the Department of Education are not. Section 99.20(a) of the Federal Regulations reads:
“If a parent or eligible student believes the education records relating to the student contain information that is inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the student’s rights of privacy, he or she may ask the educational agency or institution to amend the record.”
Once the request is submitted, the recipient must review the records within a reasonable time to determine if a change is warranted. If so, the change is made. If not, the institution must provide written notice to the parent or student as appropriate.
What types of changes can be requested? The obvious answer is corrections to inaccurate information such as grades and disciplinary actions. An effort can also be made to address topics where there are no clear guidelines, but where the institution might be willing to make a change. For example, a request that vaccination information for a student be limited to viewing by a small number of employees of the educational institution instead of any employee with access to the file. Some school boards are receptive to such requests while others are not, but there is nothing to stop a parent or student from seeking redress.
If a request for amendment is rejected, a qualifying parent or student has the right to ask for a hearing regarding the rejection. However, the challenge to the ruling can only be based on arguments that the information in question is inaccurate, misleading or in violation of the privacy rights of the student.
If the institution ultimately agrees with the parent or student’s argument at the hearing, it must change the record of the student to reflect the corrected information. If the institution is not swayed at the hearing, it must provide a written decision to the parent and student. The parent or student then has the right to provide a written declaration of their position and why they disagree with the ruling. This statement must be placed with the contested student record and disclosed to any party seeking access to the information in question. Importantly, the refusal pf the institution to make a change is not considered an FERPA violation per se unless there is an independent reason for making such a determination.
While the Department of Education has detailed a process for amending student records, the truth is hearings rarely are required for addressing errors and mistakes in the files of a student. When errors are evident, the vast majority of institutions will amend the student’s records upon written request by the representative of the parents or student as appropriate. Hearings tend only to occur where the management staff of the institution is misinformed on FERPA or the issue in question falls into a gray area. In such situations, the prospect of winning the hearing is often a 50-50 with the fallback goal being to get a written objection into the student’s records. Every case is different, so legal representation should always be consulted before pursuing an amendment effort.
Much like credit reports, student records often contain errors. Using FERPA to access, review, and correct such errors is an efficient and time-tested strategy. Contact us to learn more about your options.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.