The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), also known as the Buckley Amendment, is the primary law that protects the confidentiality of students’ records in academic environments.
- Student Rights under FERPA
- Whose Records are Protected?
- When do FERPA Rights Begin for UMass Students?
- What are “Education Records”?
- What Types of Records are NOT Education Records?
- What is Prior Consent?
- Circumstances to Release Education Records without Consent
- What is “Directory Information”?
- Is UMass Obligated to Release Directory Information?
- How Can Students Protect Their Directory Information?
- Special “Don'ts” for Faculty and Staff
- How Can Faculty/Staff Maintain Students’ Records Securely?
- Parent Rights Regarding Education Records
- Access to Applicant Records
- Right to Challenge Information in Records
- Hearings to Challenge Records
- FERPA Contacts
Under FERPA, students have the following rights with respect to their education records to:
- Inspect and review any of their education records within a reasonable timeframe, but no later than 45 days after their initial request.
- Seek to have their education records amended.
- Control the disclosure of their education records to any third party.
- Address privacy-related complaints to the University Registrar or FERPA Officer in the Dean of Students Office.
FERPA protects both current and former students' records.
Individual institutions can define when FERPA rights begin for their students. At UMass Amherst, FERPA rights start when the student matriculates as either a degree or non-degree student.
Education records are defined as ALL records that are:
- Related directly to a student,
- Maintained by the institution or a staff member, and
- Kept in any format.
What Types of Records are NOT Education Records?
- Campus Police Records: records maintained solely for law enforcement purposes.
- Employment Records: records regarding the employment relationship a student has with the University when it is not as a result of their status as a student.
- Medical Records: records maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional acting in their capacity to treat the student.
- Sole-possession Records: records made by University faculty and staff which are kept in the sole possession of the person, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person.
- Post-attendance Records: records made after a student’s tenure at the University ended. Unsuccessful Applicants’ Records: records of students not admitted to the University.
If a student wants to share some academic records (e.g., class schedule, grades) with their parents, spouse, a prospective employer, insurance companies, etc., he/she must provide prior written consent before you can talk to the specified designee(s). Prior written consent must:
- Specify the records to be released,
- Identify the party or class of parties to whom disclosure may be made, and
- Be signed and dated by the student.
The University MAY disclose education records without consent under the following circumstances:
- The disclosure is to University officials who have been determined to have legitimate educational interests as set forth in the institution's annual notification of rights to students. A "University Official" is defined as any professional employee who is head of an office, department, school, college, division, or Public Safety or their specified designee(s). A “legitimate educational interest” is defined as an academic status check or evaluation, research, curriculum evaluation or development, institutional or statistical evaluation and analysis, student placement, and admission evaluation.
- The disclosure is to state or local educational authorities auditing or enforcing federal or state- supported education programs or enforcing federal laws which relate to these programs.
- The disclosure is in connection with determining eligibility, amounts, and terms for financial aid, or enforcing the terms and conditions of financial aid.
- The disclosure is pursuant to a lawfully issued court order or subpoena.
- The University has designated the information as directory information.
The University may disclose directory information without a student’s prior consent, unless the student specifically requests in writing that the following information be withheld. At UMass Amherst, directory information is limited to:
- Date of Attendance
- Major, School/College
- Acknowledgement of a participation in officially-recognized activities & sports
- Weight and height of members of athletic teams
- Degrees, certificates, and awards received
- Most recent previous educational institution or agency attended
Additional information release exceptions:
Any member of the University community with a NetID may access the following items, as long as the access is for University-related purposes. However, such individuals may not use this information for commercial purposes or otherwise in violation of other University policies or applicable state or federal law:
- Student ID
- Email address
The UMass Amherst Alumni Association may access the following items:
- Permanent and local address
- Telephone numbers
- Date of birth
An institution is not obligated to release directory information to anyone. FERPA states only that an institution MAY release information, but there is no obligation to do so. When in doubt about whether something is directory information, please DO NOT release any information.
Individual students can request a privacy flag for their records. This privacy flag in SPIRE looks like a blue window shade. It indicates that a student has requested that all or part of their directory information remain confidential.
Students can make these privacy requests at the Office of the University Registrar, 213 Whitmore Administration Building.
To avoid violations of FERPA rules, please DO NOT:
- Post grades using student I.D.s, SSNs, or other personally identifiable data.
- Link a student’s name with their student I.D. or SSN in any public manner.
- Leave graded tests in a stack for students to pick up by sorting through other students’ papers.
- Circulate a printed class list with student names, I.D.s, SSNs, or grades as an attendance roster.
- Discuss the progress of any student with anyone (including parents) other than the student without the student’s consent.
- Provide anyone with lists of students or student emails of those enrolled in your classes for any commercial purpose.
- Provide anyone with student schedules or assist anyone other than eligible University employees in finding a student on campus.
It is faculty/staff's responsibility to make sure that students’ records faculty/staff have accessed and/or stored are secure. Take necessary measures to protect against unauthorized access to students’ data in your possession. For example:
- Always ask for a photo ID to confirm the student’s identity, when he/she inquires about their own files.
- Respond only to inquiries that you are authorized to field. Refer all other inquiries to an authorized source, even if you have access to the information sought.
- Password-protect your computer in which you store students’ records.
- Use only your assigned SPIRE account and do not share it with other individuals. You are responsible for all actions taken using your account.
- Keep diskettes and other storage media with student data in a secure or locked location.
- When you have finished a computer task involving student data, exit all files, sign off all applications, and close all application windows.
- Shred printed materials that contain sensitive or restricted data when they are no longer in use.
Parent Rights Regarding Education Records
- Parents have the right to expect that information such as their own financial records and related financial information will be held confidential. These cannot be released to students or to others, without the parent’s or parents’ authorization. For instance, parents may provide part of their financial information for their children’s financial aid application. However, the part provided by or relating to the parents should remain confidential.
- Parents' access to information from their children's education records is carefully circumscribed, unless the student provides specific prior consent for data release to a parent. Otherwise, the only information that can be released to parents is the ‘directory information’, provided that the student has not requested that the information be suppressed.
Access to applicant records during the admission process is strictly controlled and is governed by University policy. These records should be treated as confidential. Enrolled students do have certain rights to review their admission materials, including letters of reference to which they did not waive their rights of access. Students seeking access to these application records should contact their Registrar's Office.
Students have the right to challenge the content of their education records if they consider the information within to be inaccurate, misleading, or inappropriate. This process includes an opportunity for amendment of the records or insertion of written explanations by the student into such records. Please note that this does not include the right to challenge grades unless the assigned grade was inaccurately recorded, in which case the record will be corrected.
- Students challenging information in their records must submit, in writing, a request for a hearing to the appropriate office maintaining the record, listing the specific information in question and the reasons for the challenge. Hearings will be conducted by a university official who has no direct interest in the outcome of the hearing.
- Students shall be afforded a full and fair opportunity to present evidence relevant to the reasons for the challenge. The hearing officer will render a decision, in writing, noting the reason and summarizing all evidence presented within a reasonable time frame after the challenge is filed.
- Should the hearing be in favor of the student, the record shall be amended accordingly. Should the request be denied, an appeal may be made, in writing, and submitted to the University Registrar within 10 days of the student’s notification of the decision of the hearing officer. The appeal shall be heard by an appeals board of three disinterested senior university officials and a decision rendered, in writing, within a reasonable period of time.
- Should the appeal be in favor of the student, the record shall be amended accordingly. Should the request be denied, the student may choose to place a statement with the record commenting on the accuracy of the information in the record, and/or setting forth any basis for inaccuracy. When disclosed to an authorized party, the record will always include the student’s statement and notice of the board’s decision, as long as the student’s record is maintained by the University.
Whenever you have questions on FERPA or University policies, consult:
- University Registrar (413) 545-0555
- University Without Walls (UWW) (413) 545-3653