When you want records from a school system, your public information request can often be hindered by claims of protections under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) – a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. If this happens, don’t be alarmed. These claims are often misguided, and there are several workarounds to get the information you need.
What Records Are Protected
Unless you receive written consent from the parent or student, record custodians cannot give reporters or researchers access to personal records maintained by the school. This information can include reports of grades, learning disabilities, special needs of the student and disciplinary files. The only individuals who can access this material are school officials, people marshalled by a lawful subpoena or judicial order, other authorities specified by the U.S. Department of Education and the student or parent to whom it belongs
What Records Are Public
Despite FERPA’s strict guidelines on keeping student information private, the law carves out considerable exceptions. This is the basic information regarding education records that must be considered for release under a public information request:
- “Directory” information, such as name, age, honors and awards, grade level, photographs, and more. Schools must tell parents and students about directory information and give them enough time to request the information not be disclosed. For more information on what constitutes directory information, find your school system’s FERPA policy on its website.
- Records with all personally identifiable information removed are subject to disclosure. The record cannot be used alone, or in combination with other information, to identify a student. The school district is responsible for deciding which information is redacted.
- Application files of non-student employees are subject to disclosure.
- Records maintained by teaching hospitals for interns and residents are subject to disclosure.
- Student records held by law enforcement are not considered education records and are subject to disclosure. This applies to both private and public police forces, as specified by section 552.108 in the Texas Public Information Handbook in 2018.
- Sensitive data about students in an aggregate form is subject to disclosure, as long as the information released is untraceable to a specific student or subset of students.
- Records collected about an individual after that person is no longer a student at a school are subject to disclosure, but the information obtained while he or she is enrolled is protected by FERPA.
It is also important to remember records not protected by FERPA could be confidential under the Freedom of Information Act, the Texas Public Information Act or other states’ public record laws.
Requesting Your Own Information
If you are looking to inspect or review the information your school has collected about you, your school has to produce those records within 45 days. The school does have the right to charge nominal fees for copies, but it is free to view them in the office of the records custodian. Information on how to submit a request for personal information should be available on the web page containing your school system’s FERPA policy.
U.S. Department of Education
Cornell Law School
Texas Attorney General’s Office