Essay: Ferpa: Comparing Ferpa in Maryland

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FERPA: Comparing FERPA in Maryland to FERPA Nationally

The Family Educational and Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C.S. § 1232g; 34 CFR 99, is a national law that focuses on the privacy rights of student education records for public school students and students of schools receiving public educational funds, from elementary level through the university level. Because FERPA applies to students at all levels of school, parents have access to information that would otherwise violate adult student privacy rights through a minor student's graduation from high school. However, any student attending a school beyond the high school level, regardless of that student's age, has personal rights, rather than their parents being able to exercise rights on their behalf (U.S. Department of Education, 2008).

Student privacy is the cornerstone of FERPA and the law attempts to navigate information that must be shared in order to ensure educational quality with a student's right to privacy. The rights guaranteed under FERPA include, but are not limited to the following: the right to inspect and review educational records, the right to correct inaccurate information, and the right to privacy (U.S. Department of Education, 2008). These safeguards are meant to guard student privacy, particularly in the context of adult students. Privacy issues may seem linked to grades, but real concerns about FERPA are not linked to grades. Instead, FERPA is frequently linked to the student disciplinary context, and FERPA ensures that adult students do not have their parents contacted when they engage inappropriate behavior. Moreover, it ensures the privacy of their educational records, which can keep disciplinary issues from becoming available to the public, at large.

The privacy that is inherent with FERPA appears to an unmitigated positive, but that position ignores the fact that many universities treat issues that would, in other contexts, be handled as criminal matters, where the students would not have a right to privacy, as disciplinary matters. These offenses could include drug offenses, crimes on campus including sexual assault, and other issues where there might be compelling reasons for the information to be made available to the public. Furthermore, even if there is no compelling reason for disclosure to the public at large, there may be instances where the best interests of the student would require disclosure that is prohibited under FERPA. The reality is that many college students are still in very dependent relationships with their parents, but FERPA treats them as adults even while they are living as dependents. If parents are continuing to pay for the educational and living expenses of students, is it fair or appropriate to deny them access to information about those students? In addition, while post high-school students have their own rights under FERPA, there may be times in which parental involvement would help students navigate difficult scenarios, particularly difficult disciplinary issues, where the consequences of the disciplinary issues may be greater than the student realizes at the time. Therefore, this paper will focus on whether FERPA is beneficial to adult college students.

Literature Review

In order to properly assess FERPA, it is critical to understand the limitations of what it does and does not guarantee. FERPA's provisions provide several important protections for students, and several areas of potential liability for schools. The three most significant protections are the student's right to inspect the educational record, the right to correct erroneous information, and the right to privacy. However, it is important to note that FERPA's protections come with limitations, including some aspects where the school might not only be able to disclose, but be required to disclose the student's records.

The first significant contribution that FERPA makes to educational law is that it gives students the right to inspect their own educational records. FERPA provides that "Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student's education records maintained by the school. Schools are not required to provide copies of records unless, for reasons such as great distance, it is impossible for parents or eligible students to review the records. Schools may charge a fee for copies" (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). At the college level, this is a personal right to be exercised by adult students, not their parents or guardians. Moreover, there is a transition in FERPA; at the high school level and below, the right to review records is a parental right. This can place a high burden on students who wish to review their records if they do not have parental support and participation. This parental access to student records can also provide significant deterrents to students who might otherwise access school-related resources, particularly non-academic resources. For example, because parents have a right to review student records, they would have the right to review records that implicated the parents in possible child abuse, which is not an unusual co-occurrence when a child becomes a disciplinary problem at the school.

It is critical to understand that FERPA was written in the Watergate era, when distrust of the government was rampant. "The law's legislative history suggests the distrustful climate surrounding Watergate cascaded into other privacy areas, including education. Following Watergate, lawmakers were increasingly concerned that secret governmental documents could be erroneously relied upon to the detriment of individuals, most of whom had no idea that data was being kept and no method of correcting inaccurate information. Thus, FERPA's purpose was to give parents access to their children's educational records to ensure that data being relied upon to classify their children was correct or correctable" (Penrose, 2011). Therefore, FERPA contains the following procedures by which a person can seek amendment of school records: "Parents or eligible students have the right to request that a school correct records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student then has the right to a formal hearing. After the hearing, if the school still decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student has the right to place a statement with the record setting forth his or her view about the contested information" (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). In some instances, this right reflects the ability to correct simple mistakes made by the educational facility, which may not have been detected if the student did not also have the related right to review his or her educational record. However, when placed in the context of the disciplinary process, it can provide students with an additional avenue for some type of review of behavior. Generally, people who have access to a student's records will be able to access disciplinary history. Therefore, what this provision means is that any person who has access to the student's record will also have access, at that time, to any explanation that the student wishes to put in the record, as long as the student has complied with the steps required to access the right to provide an explanation. This may give the student an opportunity to mitigate some of the negatives contained in the student's record.

Finally, FERPA does what it was created to do; it ensures a certain level of privacy for the student. However, it is important to keep in mind that this guarantee of privacy is not absolute, and that students cannot use FERPA to shield students in particular situations. "Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record" (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). FERPA allows schools to disclose records, without student or parental consent to: school officials with legitimate educational interest; other schools to which a student is transferring; 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; and state and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). Furthermore, schools have the right to disclose information, at will, if that information is considered directory information and the student has not made a request that they not disclose that information (U.S. Department of Education, 2011).

However, there are some concerns that FERPA might interfere with the disciplinary process or somehow impede the university's ability to exercise its authority by shielding students from responsibility for their wrongdoing. "No longer can parents simply send their children away to college assuming they will be immune to crime because college campuses reflect the same problems and concerns found in society as a whole. In an effort to provide parents and prospective students with an informed view of campus life, many members of the press and media are seeking access to the records of university judicial procedures" (Walton, 2002). However, these disciplinary proceedings have long been considered part of student's record, so that educational institutions keep them private. This… [END OF PREVIEW]

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