The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA; 20 U.S.C. 1232g) was enacted by Congress in 1974,
and it has been amended several times. The Act gives students over the age
of 18 and the parents of students under 18 certain rights to inspect and review
records, request corrections to records that they believe to be incorrect or
misleading, and not to have such information released without permission
except under certain circumstances.
FERPA applies to educational agencies and institutions that receive funds
from the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA also covers the students and
parents of students who attend such institutions.
FERPA presents difficult issues because of the way it exerts control over schools.
Private schools have a business interest in treating students and parents well. They
will suffer adverse publicity and lose customers if they do not carefully protect
the privacy of student information. They are also subject to suits based on common
law privacy torts if they do not. For them, FERPA merely adds bureaucracy and threatens
them with the loss of federal funding.
FERPA, of course, applies to public schools, which have an important
characteristic of other government agencies, little incentive to treat customers and their
information well. Public schools also may not be subject to suit under the privacy
torts, which renders some kind of statutory protection necessary as to them.
FERPA imposes federal information requirements on educational institutions that
should be controlled by the parents, teachers, and principals who know best how to
serve the needs of their children.