Dear FERPA Professor,
I typically take my guidance from the FERPA website and past experiences and only release student information to parents if we have a release from the student. However, I read a FAQ regarding the release of information to parents without the student’s consent if those students are dependents. I was under the impression that once a student turns 18, they become an eligible student under FERPA and rights are transferred to the student.
The FAQ seems to somewhat conflict with the info outlined on the Family Compliance website:
“FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred are ‘eligible students.’”
However, the FAQ I read suggests otherwise and mentions the dependent student and parents having access without the student's consent.
“FERPA generally prohibits the nonconsensual disclosure of information derived from education records, except in certain specified circumstances. One of these exceptions permits the nonconsensual disclosure of information derived from education records to that student’s parent if the student is a dependent for tax purposes… If a student is claimed as a dependent by either parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision, absent a court order specifically prohibiting it.”
Could you please provide guidance based on the actual law since there seems to be a conflict on the sites.
While it can seem confusing, there is not a conflict here, only a need for clarification. Section §99.30 of the FERPA regulations generally requires that a student provide a written consent prior to that student's education records being disclosed.
However, §99.31 of the regulations provides for certain disclosures so long as the specific requirements of the exception(s) are met. One of the exceptions to signed consent is the "dependent student" exception, found at §99.31(a)(8), which permits, but does not require, a postsecondary institution to give parents access to the education records of the student they claim on their income tax. Thus, while, as you noted, the FERPA rights reside with the student at the postsecondary institution, the institution MAY permit access to the student's education records when the requirements of this exception are met. You can find the above referenced language on page 161 of the 2012 AACRAO FERPA Guide.
I hope this is helpful in answering your question.
The FERPA Professor