The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Student Education Records

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), gives Gardner-Webb University students certain rights, consistent with the privacy of others, with respect to official records, files, and data maintained by the University that contain personally identifiable information about them. These are referred to as the student’s “Education Records” or “Records.” These rights include:

  1. The right to grant permission to University personnel to release their Education Records or information from their Records to specified individuals or entities by completing the FERPA Release Form which may be found here. The form may also be located on the student’s Personal Information menu on WebbConnect. Using this form, students may specify up to three individuals to whom information may be released.

    Faculty and Advisors may confirm whether a student has signed a FERPA Release Form using this process:
    • Log into WebbConnect
    • On the left, scroll down and click on the folder marked “Manage Classes”
    • Click on “F.E.R.P.A. Student Waiver View”
    • A new tab will ask for the student’s last and first name; then click on “Submit”
    • When a student or students name(s) appear, click on the button “Select Student Id” that corresponds to the correct student
    • You will then see information on whether the student has granted access, the types of records and the persons to whom the records may be released, if any, will also be shown.
  2. The right to inspect and review the student’s Education Records within 45 days after the day the University office or official maintaining the Records receives the student’s written request for access. This may be the Registrar, Dean, Chair of an academic department, Student Accounts, Admissions, or other appropriate office or official. The student will either receive copies (the student may be charged based on the cost to the University) or notified of the time and place where the Records may be inspected. If the Records are not maintained by the office or University official to whom the request was submitted, that official/office should refer the student of the correct official or office to whom the request should be addressed.
  3. The right to request the amendment of the student’s Education Records that the student believes are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the student’s privacy rights under FERPA. A student who wishes to ask the University to amend a Record should write the Office of the Registrar, clearly identifying the part of their Education Records the student wants changed and specifying why the student believes the change should be made.
    This procedure is limited to challenging facts or figures that are simply inaccurately recorded by the University. This process may not be used to challenge a grade, an opinion, or a substantive or qualitative decision made by the University about the student. For example, this procedure cannot be used to change grades, academic assessments, disciplinary rulings, dismissals, admissions, or placement determinations. If the University decides not to amend the Record as requested, the student will be notified in writing of the decision and the student’s right to a hearing before a designated University official under certain circumstances regarding the request for amendment. However, the University will not grant a hearing if this procedure does not apply to the original request. (See preceding two paragraphs).
  4. The right to provide written consent before the University discloses information from the student’s Education Records, except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without consent.
  5. Students who believe their rights under FERPA have been violated may file a written complaint with the Office of the Provost, Webb Hall. Students also have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failure by the University to comply with the requirements of FERPA. The name and address of the office that administers FERPA is:

Student Privacy Policy Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Release of Directory Information

Absent a prior hold from the student, FERPA allows the University to release Directory Information. The items listed below are designated as Directory Information:

  • Student’s name
  • Student’s address
  • Student’s telephone listing
  • Student’s email address
  • Student’s date and place of birth
  • Student’s photograph
  • Student’s major field of study
  • Student’s participation in recognized activities and sports
  • Weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • Student’s dates of attendance
  • Student’s degrees and honors received
  • Student’s most recent previous educational agency or institution attended

Students have the right to require the University to refrain from disclosing any or all of the above categories of Directory Information if they provide timely written notification to the Office of the Registrar (a “hold”). A request to withhold Directory Information in no way restricts lawful internal use by the University and/or release as otherwise allowed by FERPA.

Additional Disclosures Allowed under FERPA

FERPA also permits the disclosure of students’ Education Records, without consent of the student, if the disclosure meets certain conditions found in § 99.31 of the FERPA regulations, including the release of Education Records to the following persons or entities:

  • Other schools upon request, when a student is seeking or intending to enroll or is already enrolled, so long as the disclosure is for purposes related to the student’s enrollment or transfer
  • Accrediting organizations for purposes necessary to carry out their functions
  • Organizations doing studies for or on behalf of the University to (A) Develop, validate, or administer predictive tests; (B) Administer student aid programs; or (C) Improve instruction
  • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student to determine eligibility, amount or conditions of financial aid, or to enforce the terms and conditions of aid
  • Certain government officials of the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Attorney General, the U.S. Comptroller General, or state or federally supported educational authorities and programs
  • Individuals who have obtained a lawfully issued judicial order or subpoena. As time permits, the University will notify the student of its intent to comply with the judicial order or subpoena. However, the University cannot notify the student if a court order directs the University to remain silent.
  • Appropriate parties who need to know in cases of health or safety emergencies when necessary to protect the health or safety of the student and/or others
  • Alleged victims of any crime of violence or a non-forcible sex offense, with the final results of a disciplinary proceeding, whether or not the alleged perpetrator was found responsible
  • Any third party the final results of a student conduct proceeding against a student who was found responsible for any crime of violence or non-forcible sex offense in violation of any University rule, policy, or code of conduct
  • Parents or legal guardians of a student under the age of 21, regarding the University’s determination that the student violated a university policy or state, federal or local law governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance
  • A court, without judicial order or subpoena, when the University is involved in litigation with the student or the student’s parents
  • Branches of the United States military, requested under the Solomon Amendment for purposes of recruitment
  • Parents of students who are dependents for tax purposes if proven by submission of true and accurate copies of the first and signature pages of their most recently filed federal tax return with financial information removed and showing the student listed as a dependent
  • Contractors, consultants, volunteers or other parties to whom the University has outsourced institutional services or functions
  • University employees who have a “legitimate educational interest” In the Education Records (Please see the next section for additional important details on this exception)

Additional Disclosures Allowed under FERPA

A common misconception about FERPA is that University employees must always get a FERPA Release from a student either before accessing the student’s Education Records or prior to sharing student Education Records with other employees. In fact, FERPA was never intended to restrict access to, or internal sharing of, student Education Records when doing so is necessary to perform official University employment duties and functions.

This means that if a University employee needs access to certain student Education Records in order to perform their official duties, they have a “legitimate educational interest” in the information and may access it without a FERPA Release. That employee may in turn share the information with other employees who need the information in order to perform their official duties, and vice versa.

Examples include the following:

  • All offices and employees within the University whose job it is to process financial aid, tuition payments, and other business-related information may share that information with each other as necessary to perform their official functions.
  • Faculty may share grade information and student academic work with each other if their shared goal is to help the student succeed academically.  Those faculty members may in turn share this information with other employees and offices whose duties include helping students succeed academically, such as Student Success, etc.
  • A faculty or staff member who receives written information indicating that a student’s well-being or safety may be in jeopardy may share such writings with other employees whose job it is to help troubled students or enforce security.  This could include the Vice President of Student Development, the Title IX Coordinator, the Counseling Center, Campus Police, etc.
  • In the broadest sense, faculty and staff are free to access and as appropriate share Education Records about a student when their individual or shared duties include helping that student succeed at Gardner-Webb.

FERPA does forbid accessing student Education Records and information where the employee has no need for the information in order to perform their official duties. Likewise, where an employee (Employee 1) legitimately accesses Education Records as part of their official duties, Employee 1 must not pass that information to Employee 2 unless Employee 2 also needs access to the Education Records in order to perform their official duties.

If Documentation or other Student-Related Information does not Qualify as an “Education Record” then FERPA Does Not Apply

Another common misconception about FERPA is that it applies to all personally identifiable information about students. In fact, FERPA applies only to “Education Records,” defined above as “official records, files, and data maintained by the University that contain personally identifiable information about the student.” 

There are many types of personally identifiable student information that do not meet this definition. Examples include the following:

  • Anything a student says (oral statements are not Education Records)
  • Anything a student does (student actions and behaviors are not Education Records)
  • Faculty and staff concerns, opinions, or observations about a student (these are in the mind of the observer and do not constitute Education Records)

An illustration of these principles: A faculty or staff member becomes concerned about the well-being of a student based on oral statements or behaviors of the student that are observed and/or reported by others who have had contact with the student. FERPA is not violated if that information is shared with those (inside or outside the University) who are in a position to assist the student or otherwise address the concern. That could include the student’s parents, pastor, counselor, the campus Counseling Center, the Vice President of Student Development, law enforcement, etc. 

Caution: Even where FERPA does not apply, commonly accepted standards of appropriate boundaries, professional discretion and simple common sense continue to apply, and all employees are expected to exhibit those characteristics and behaviors. Reasonable care as to the accuracy of any such student information provided to third parties must also be exercised.

Questions concerning FERPA may be referred to the Office of the Registrar.