The key federal law dealing with student privacy is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA. However, student privacy is also affected by the No Child Left Behind Act as well as numerous other federal and state laws. Provided here is a brief guide to the issues.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

FERPA applies to every educational body, public or private, regardless of grade level, which receives federal funding. In practice, this covers virtually every school, college and educational agency in the United States.

In general, FERPA prevents schools from releasing personally identifiable information about any student without the consent of the student, or if the student is a minor, a parent. However, records may be released to those with a legitimate reason for the request, including financial aid officials, auditors, and other schools that the student plans to attend. Records may also be released in health and safety emergencies and in compliance with a subpoena.

Directory information may be released unless the student or parent opts out. Depending on the school, directory information may include the student’s full name, date and place of birth, address, dates of attendance, major field of study, degrees earned, photograph, e-mail address and other statistics. Schools may also release students’ addresses and telephone numbers to military recruiters unless a parent or student opts out.

Information may also be made public about the final outcome of any disciplinary proceedings in which a student was found guilty of violence or a sex offense. Post-secondary institutions are also permitted to inform parents if a student under age 21 violates a school policy or law dealing with drug or alcohol use.


Student Profiling

Students represent a large and valuable market which many businesses are eager to tap. Many companies collect data from student surveys and school databases in order to send direct marketing offers to students.

The No Child Left Behind Act limits student profiling in several ways. Although not relevant to college students, the Act does apply to both public and private elementary and secondary schools that receive federal funding. Under the terms of the Act, parents and adult students must be provided with a way to opt out of surveys on a variety of topics. They are also permitted to opt out of non-emergency physically invasive procedures.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System

SEVIS was developed as part of an attempt to combat terrorism under the USA PATRIOT Act. SEVIS is an internet-based system for schools to transmit information about exchange and immigrant students to INS. Transmittable information includes both academic and disciplinary information.