What is FERPA?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that affords students the following rights regarding their education records: 1) to have access to their education records, 2) to consent to release a record to a third party, 3) to request nondisclosure of directory information, 4) to seek amendment of information in an education record that the student demonstrates is inaccurate, and 5) to be notified of their privacy rights.
What is an Education Record?
Under FERPA, education records are defined as records that are maintained by an educational agency or institution and that contain information directly related to the student. Education records include but are not limited to:
- Academic Records: Permanent record of academic performance (e.g., transcript, including supporting documents) maintained by the Office of the University Registrar, the WCL Registrar, academic advisors, dean’s offices, and the Provost’s Office; files of academic progress maintained by the individual school/college academic offices and Provost’s Office; admissions files of students; Career Center files.
- Non-Academic Records: Files related to Financial Aid, Housing and Dining Programs, International Student and Scholar Services, Student Accounts, and the Library; student discipline files; employment files of students who are employed because of their student status (e.g., work-study, graduate assistantships/fellowships).
What is not considered an education record?
The following items are NOT considered education records under FERPA:
- Private notes of educational personnel that are not accessible to other personnel and only used as a memory aid;
- Campus police records;
- Medical records created and maintained by health professionals;
- Records relating to employment by the institution;
- Records that only contain information about an individual obtained after the person is no longer a student at the institution (e.g., alumni records); and
- Statistical data compilations that contain no mention of personally identifiable information.
What is “Directory Information”?
FERPA designates certain information related to students as “Directory Information” and gives the university the discretion to disclose such information to anyone inquiring without having to ask students for permission, unless students specifically request in writing that such information not be made public without their written consent.
American University classifies Directory Information in three categories:
Dates of attendance
Student’s full name
Major and Class
Month, day, and place of birth
Date of Graduation
Height and weight of athletes
Degrees and honors earned
Although it is our continued practice to verify and not volunteer Directory Information, at its discretion, the university may release Directory Information unless the student has instructed the university to restrict this information.
What does FERPA really mean for me?
Your education records, such as grades and transcripts, cannot be released to third parties unless you provide written consent or there is a FERPA exception.
The university may disclose student education records with the prior written consent of the student. You may authorize access to third parties to review your education records by completing a written and dated authorization form that specifies the information to be released, the reasons for the release, and to whom the information is to be released.
FERPA also allows the university the right to disclose education records without your consent under the following conditions:
- School officials with legitimate educational interest;
- Other schools to which a student is transferring;
- Parents of a dependant student, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code;
- Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
- Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
- Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
- Accrediting organizations;
- To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
- Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies;
- Victims of crimes of violence or non-forcible sex offenses concerning the results of disciplinary proceedings about those incidents;
- Appropriate parties as permitted by the university’s Parental Notification of Disciplinary Violations Involving the Use or Possession of Alcohol or a Controlled Substance; and
- To appropriate parties in other circumstances as required by law.
Do my parents have access to my records?
Your parents have a right to access your records if (1) you provide written consent; or (2) your parents provide us proof that you are a dependent child, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code.
Does my spouse have access to my records?
No. Your spouse is still considered a third party, and American University requires your written permission to release any non-Directory Information to a third party or the situation falls under one of the above FERPA exceptions.
Is it possible for my parents (or spouse, grandparents, financial sponsor, etc.) to have access to my records at any time?
Yes. The simplest way for you to grant access to your educational history is through your my.american.edu portal account. You can create user IDs for your parents, spouse, or other people and grant them access to all or part of your portal account (ex., access to view your grades or your current schedule, access to pay your tuition bill, etc.). You can set different levels of access for each guest account you create.
You may also file a consent form with the University Registrar’s Office identifying individuals whom you authorize to view and have a copy of your records. You can also designate with whom we can discuss your education records. This authorization remains in effect until you withdraw it in writing. The authorized individuals must make any requests for copies of your records in writing or in person with picture identification.
How can third parties, such as an insurance company, or private scholarship administrator, get a copy of my grades?
American University policy prohibits the release of grades to anyone other than the student without written consent or if the situation falls under one of the above FERPA exceptions. It is the students’ responsibility to provide a copy of their grades to an agency or individual outside the university. If a printed Grade Report from my.american.edu is not sufficient, the student can request to have an Official Transcript sent.
How do I prevent my Directory Information from being released?
Students can fill out a Request to Prevent Disclosure of Directory Information form in the Office of the Registrar (200 Asbury).
Note: It is important to remember that a Request to Prevent Disclosure of Directory Information remains in effect until the student requests to have it changed. It will remain in effect even after you leave the university.
Are there any negative consequences to restricting the release of my Directory Information?
Yes, and you need to determine the appropriate balance between your desire to restrict your information and the need for people to be able to locate you. Here are some examples of what could occur after you have restricted release of your Directory Information:
AU could not provide your telephone number to a classmate trying to contact you to give you information about a class project. AU could not give your address or telephone number to your Aunt Tillie who is in town unexpectedly for the weekend and wants to see you, but forgot to bring your address and telephone number. After you graduate, AU could not confirm for a potential employer that you have completed your degree, without your advance written consent. Following your wish for full non-disclosure, AU could not even confirm that you had ever been a student.
I have decided that I want to limit release of my Directory Information, but what if there is an emergency?
It is important that we use the same definition of emergency. If your brother forgot to make a deposit into your checking account and needs to find you right away, that is not an emergency. However, if there is a dangerous fire or safety situation, appropriate officials may be given your contact information.
Can an instructor post grades or exam results in a public place using my AU Identification Number?
No. In order for instructors to post grades or scores, they must either have the written permission of the students or use an identifier that is known only to the instructor and each individual student. Violations should be reported immediately to the Registrar.
How can someone else pick up my transcript for me?
If you want someone else to collect your transcript, you need to send a letter of authorization to the Registrar’s Office either by mail or fax (202-885-1046). Please remember to name the person collecting on your behalf, and to sign the letter, otherwise we will not be able to help. Anyone collecting a transcript or class schedule will be asked to present valid photo ID.
I requested an official transcript, and my request was denied because I have an outstanding balance. Isn't this a breach of FERPA?
No. FERPA requires an institution to allow you to access your records, but does not require official copies to be issued while payment is due. You can access your transcript and print an unofficial copy from your my.american.edu account at any time.
May a postsecondary institution disclose to a parent, without the student’s consent, information regarding a student’s violation of the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance?
Yes, if the student is under the age of 21 at the time of the disclosure. Also, if the student is a dependent student as defined in FERPA, the institution may disclosure such information, regardless of the age of the student.
I’m a work-study student. Do I have the same responsibilities under FERPA as regular staff?
Yes. You may only access student educational records if you have a legitimate educational interest to do so.
Why can’t I get my son/daughter’s grades/schedule? I’m paying the bills!
FERPA does not permit American University to release non-Directory Information without the signed consent of your child. Per our policy, regardless of whether written consent has been granted by a student, we do not release grade (including GPA) or registration (class schedule, etc.) information over the phone. AU may disclose information from an eligible student’s education records to the parents of the student, without the student's consent, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student nor the parent’s status as a custodial parent is relevant. If a student is claimed as a dependent by either parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision
What if my son or daughter is still a minor?
When a student reaches the age of 18 or begins attending a post-secondary institution regardless of age, FERPA rights transfer to the student.
What rights do I have under FERPA?
FERPA covers the rights of the student to privacy.
How can I learn how my student is doing?
The best approach is to ask your son or daughter directly. Communicating with young adults isn’t easy. They’re not always as forthcoming as we would like. The college years, however, are a period of remarkable growth and maturation. The ability and willingness of students to share information and insights usually grows, especially as they acquire the confidence that comes with assuming greater responsibility for their own lives.
FOR STAFF AND FACULTY:
Am I allowed to let students grade each other’s work?
Yes, if the work is an informal quiz where the grade is not recorded.
Is there a restriction on returning assignments?
You may not leave personally identifiable graded papers where access is unlimited. This means, for example, that you cannot leave completed assignments in a box outside your door for each student to pick out their own, even if they are in sealed envelopes with the student’s name on the outside. You may leave them with a secretary or other staff member who will return each assignment to the individual student upon request.
What may I include in a letter of recommendation?
You may state your personal observations of the student. For example, the student is attentive or punctual. You may not include a student’s GPA, grades, class standing, or any reference to progress or deficiencies, without written permission from the student.
What information may I disclose to parents?
Without express written permission from the student, you should always check with the Registrar’s Office to determine if permission has been granted.
Is the same restriction in place for releasing information to other staff/faculty members?
Yes. All third parties—that is, anyone who is not the student—is treated the same under FERPA. The exception would be school officials (as designated by AU). School officials who need access to students educational records to fulfill their professional responsibility may have higher levels of access than other AU employees; therefore always be careful when releasing any information as the person asking may not be entitled to know.
I’m an advisor and sometimes make notes for myself regarding students. Are the students entitled to see these notes?
If you make the notes during a meeting with a student, then yes—they have been made in conjunction with the student and the student is entitled to see them on request. If you make the notes after the meeting for the sole purpose of refreshing your memory AND they are for your own personal use AND the notes are in your sole possession where no one else has access to them, then they are considered sole possession notes and are separate from education records.
I received a telephone call from a parent claiming there is a family emergency and they need to contact their child immediately. Can I, as a university employee, tell the parents the day, time and location of their child’s class?
No. At American University, a student’s class schedule is not considered Directory Information; therefore this information may not be released.
WHERE CAN I GO FOR MORE INFORMATION?
Please read and review the university’s Confidentiality of Student Records Policy and visit the Office of the Registrar’s Website.