Adhering to FERPA: How to ensure proper access to student files

FERPA: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that gives students over 18 years old and their parents the right to request access to their children’s academic records. To adhere to this regulation, schools must provide this access, ensure students or parents are able to amend their records and have some control over the disclosure of identifiable data from these records.

Many schools experience difficulty adhering to FERPA, as maintaining accurate and up-to-date student data can be challenging with paper records. Finding a balance between providing timely access to these records and ensuring that they aren’t viewed by anyone who doesn’t have permission to see them can be hard without a secure system. Use these tips as a guide for your schools as they work to adhere to FERPA.

1. Ensure your data is clean and organized
If your staff fails to update student files when necessary or isn’t careful to avoid entering inaccurate data onto important documents, there’s going to be a major problem when parents request their children’s files. Your schools have 45 days to provide parents or students access to the documents. They shouldn’t be scrambling to fix incorrect or outdated information or rummaging through a warehouse full of paper documents to try to find the requested forms. Organization and proper file maintenance are key to being able to provide timely access to student files. If your schools find that they aren’t able to get everything together or provide files that contain outdated data, they will fail under FERPA and be subject to costly penalties.

It’s especially crucial for schools to stay organized when they have to share student information with third parties. Schools must receive consent from the students or parents before sharing records. They should provide as much detail as possible when requesting this permission to ensure there are no surprises on the student’s end and that they aren’t at risk of any penalties under FERPA.

“Specify the records to be released, state the reason for releasing the record and identify the group or groups of people who will receive the information when obtaining the consent of a parent or eligible student to release education records to a third party,” suggested the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

2. Educate your staff and parents
It’s not entirely up to school administrators to maintain the security of student documents and ensure they can easily be accessed. This is also in the hands of the teachers. It’s essential that the educators throughout your schools have been kept up to date on FERPA requirements, including any changes that have been made to the law throughout the years. Start by training them on the basics of the regulation.

Inform teachers on how to handle student papers that they want to dispose of at the end of the semester. For example, if the educator throws a note written to him by one of his student’s parents about academic progress in the garbage and other students find it, this could present a major legal issue. Have them shred any papers that contain personally identifiable information.

Keeping parents and students informed of their rights under FERPA is an important aspect of ensuring student documents are accessible and protected. If you fail to send out an annual notification regarding their rights to amend, review and determine nondisclosure of documents, this could present problems for your schools.

3. Avoid risky procedures
When your staff is tasked with maintaining paper student records, the chances they’ll unintentionally be misplaced or lost drastically increases. Once they’re misplaced or filed in the wrong cabinet, sensitive forms can easily end up in the wrong hands, such as those of a student or a staff member who doesn’t have permission to view these documents. Mailing or faxing records to new schools if students transfer is also a risky process that leaves plenty of room for problems.

According to 2013 statistics from leading provider of global identity protection and fraud detection technologies, CSIdentity, education facilities accounted for almost 10 percent of all of the security breaches in the U.S. The research also found that the root of this problem was due to the fact that schools were sending sensitive student information through unsecured email, which can easily be hacked. In order to protect and provide safe access to student records, schools will need to store and send this valuable information through trusted online school software.

4. Update your system
Online school solutions are key to safely maintaining, storing and sending important student files to authorized personnel. School software like SRC Solution’s Central Records Gateway ensures teachers and administrators aren’t at risk of losing or misplacing files. Meanwhile, solutions such as the ParentShare Gateway enable student documents to be sent to appropriate recipients safely with a granular security permissions setting and quickly with preset delivery times. Digitalizing your student records with secure and reliable systems like these is essential to meeting compliancy standards like FERPA by making student documents more readily available to parents and students and protecting data from security breaches.

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