What laws and regulations or policies govern student records?

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), more commonly known as “the Buckley Amendment” (20 U.S.C. § 1232g) governs access to and privacy of student records at schools, such as UNCG, which receive federal monies. The U.S. Department of Education has adopted regulations which implement FERPA and explain these requirements in greater detail at 34 C.F.R. Part 99. UNCG has adopted a Policy entitled “Access to Student Records” (the UNCG Policy) to ensure compliance with FERPA and its regulations on this campus.

What rights does FERPA create?

FERPA creates two basic rights: (1) a right of access by the student (or a “qualified” parent) to his or her education records, and (2) the student’s right of privacy in those records so that access by others is strictly controlled. This article will cover the student’s right of access. Privacy rights are discussed in Part II.

What are “education records”?

Education records are defined by FERPA, and in the UNCG Policy, as any record (written, printed, taped, filmed, etc.) maintained by UNCG that is directly related to a student except for (1) personal notes kept in the maker’s sole possession, (2) certain campus law enforcement records, (3) alumni records, and (4) certain medical records used only for treatment purposes. Thus, with few exceptions, almost any record that is made on this campus about a student must be handled in compliance with FERPA.

What rights does a student have to look at his or her education records?

Students have the right to examine their own education records upon request. Under UNCG’s Policy, the student must submit a written request to the custodian of the records. For example, if the student wants to review his or her transcript, the student must submit a written request to the Registrar’s Office. An appointment will be set up for that review. However, students do not have the right to demand instant access to their records. The University must respond to the request within a reasonable time period, and never more than 45 days from the date of the request. The University must also explain or decode the records for the student.

Does a student have a right to obtain copies of his or her education records?

Unlike the right to examine records, there is no absolute right to obtain copies. Copies need only be given when the failure to do so would effectively prevent the student from exercising the right to examine the records, e.g. where the student is too far away to commute to the campus. UNCG’s Policy defines that distance as more than 50 miles.

Are there any other circumstances under which the University may refuse to provide copies of education records to the student?

Both federal and state law permit the University to deny copies if the student has an unpaid financial obligation to the University or if there is an unresolved disciplinary or academic action against the student.

Are there any limits on the student’s right to review information in the student’s education records?

Yes, if the record also contains information about other students, that information must be “redacted” (removed or blanked out) prior to the review. Additionally, the student has no right to review financial records provided by his or her parents. Confidential letters of recommendation may also be withheld from the student’s review IF the student had voluntarily waived the right to review those letters, in writing. Even where such a waiver exists, the University must comply with the student’s request for the names of anyone who submitted confidential recommendations. Finally, students have no right to personally review medical and mental health records. However, the student may have those records reviewed by a physician or other appropriate professional of the student’s choice.

What rights do the parents or legal guardian of a student have to get information from their child’s records?

FERPA expressly states that when a student reaches the age of 18 OR is attending an institution of post secondary education the rights of access to student records “transfer from the parents to the student.”Thus, the parents’ rights are terminated unless the parents either obtain written consent from their child or submit proof that they claimed the student as a dependent in their most recent federal tax return. A copy of the written consent or the tax return must be submitted along with their written request for access to the student’s records. Once this has been done, the parents become “qualified” for access in the same manner as the student.

What about parents who are divorced or separated?

Both parents will be given access (if they are “qualified” as specified above) unless the University has been provided with evidence that there is a court order or legally binding document (such as a divorcee decree or separation agreement) that specifically revokes these rights.

Is it OK to answer questions about education records over the phone, by e-mail or by fax?

This is a very bad idea unless you know for certain that the person on the other end is the student or is a “qualified” parent or guardian. Unfortunately, there have been cases where a person (e.g. a private investigator) posed as a student or parent in order to get information for use in litigation or to hunt the student down for credit reasons. Others have done so in order to harass or stalk the student. Thus, the refusal to answer inquiries that are not made in person (and with positive ID) is justified as much for the protection of our students as it is for compliance with federal law.

What right does a student have to challenge incorrect information in his or her education records?

FERPA and the UNCG Policy establish a process whereby a student may seek the correction of information he or she believes to be inaccurate, misleading or in violation of privacy rights. In summary, the student first requests amendment from the custodian of the record in question. If the custodian declines, a hearing will be scheduled. If the hearing officer also declines to grant the amendment, the student has the right to place a statement in the record explaining his or her disagreement with the challenged information.

Where can I find a copy of the UNCG Policy?

The UNCG policy is included in the Policies for Students handbook published at the beginning of each academic year.

I have other questions that you haven’t answered.

Please contact the General Counsel’s office at 334-3067 or ilcathey@uncg.edu.

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