Ask the FERPA Professor

September 8, 2020
  • FERPA
  • FERPA Professor

Dear FERPA Professor:

I am writing to double-check -- must we use a wet signature for FERPA releases? Because of COVID 19, there are  a lot of forms that used to be wet signatures that are now allowed to be signed electronically. 

Thank you for clarification, and I hope you're doing well during these strange times.

Otto Graf 

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Dear Otto:

Thank you for the inquiry. As you know, §99.30 of the FERPA regulations require that a student provide a signed, dated, written consent before an institution discloses information from the student's education record, unless the disclosure meets the specific conditions of one the exceptions to signed consent found in §99.31. 

However, §99.30(d) permits an institution to accept an electronic consent, but it also requires that the institution know that the electronic signature authenticates the identity of the student. Thus, electronic signatures would generally be established by the institution, not by an outside party where the institution may not know what, if any, authentication process exists.  If the College provides the email service for the students, it could always suggest/require that the student email through the official College account, permission to accept the document(s), thus providing the required authentication.

You can find the electronic signature regulations in Appendix J of the 2012 AACRAO FERPA Guide, starting on page 353.  The referenced "safe harbor" language in the regulations, which is based on the FSA standards, can be found on page 360.  The other regulations cited above can be found starting on page 159 of the Guide.

I hope the above is helpful in answering your question, and that you are also weathering these challenging times safely.

Sincerely,

The FERPA Professor