The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, as amended, prohibits postsecondary educational institutions from disclosing the education records of students to most third parties without the student’s written consent. However, certain information is considered “directory information” and may be disclosed without consent. It is important that students understand what personal data is protected and the additional action that must be taken if additional protection is desired.
FERPA affords students certain rights with respect to their education records and requires institutions to annually notify students of certain rights. These rights include:
1. The right to inspect and review the student's education records (with certain limited exceptions) within 45 days of the day the university receives a request for access. Students should submit to the Office of Student Data and Registrar a written request that identifies the record(s) they wish to inspect. The Office of Student Data and Registrar will make arrangements for access and notify the student of the time and place where the records may be inspected. If the records are not maintained by the Office of Student Data and Registrar, the Office of Student Data and Registrar will advise the student of the official to whom their written request should be addressed.
2. The right to request the amendment of the student's education records that the student believes to be inaccurate, misleading or in violation of the student’s privacy rights under FERPA. To make such a request, students should write the Office of Student Data and Registrar, clearly identify the part of the record they want changed, and specify why it is inaccurate, misleading or in violation of FERPA privacy rights. If the university decides not to amend the record as requested by the student, the university will notify the student of the decision and advise the student of his or her right to a hearing regarding the request for amendment. Additional information regarding the hearing procedures will be provided to the student when notified of the right to a hearing.
3. The right to consent to disclosures of personally identifiable information contained in the student's education records, except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without consent. Some of the exceptions authorized by the law are set out below.
a. One exception to FERPA permits disclosure to “school officials” with “legitimate educational interests.” A “school official” includes a person employed by St. Thomas in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research or support staff position (including public safety and health services staff); a person serving on the Board of Trustees; and a student serving on an official committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance committee or assisting another school official in performing St. Thomas tasks. A school official may also include a volunteer or contractor outside of St. Thomas who performs an institutional service or function on behalf of St. Thomas (such as an attorney, auditor or collection agent). The University of St. Thomas defines "legitimate educational interest" as "needs the record(s) to carry out employment, committee, service or professional responsibilities to St. Thomas." Therefore, any university employee, or person acting on behalf of the university, may have access to student records without the student's written consent if that person needs the access to carry out his/her responsibilities.
b. Another exception to FERPA permits St. Thomas to disclose “directory information.” “Directory information” includes student name; local, home and email addresses; photographs, video or digitized image; telephone number; class year; enrollment status (i.e., undergraduate or graduate, full-time or part-time); school affiliation (i.e., Engineering, Opus College of Business); major field of study; dates of attendance; degrees, honors and awards; participation in officially recognized activities, clubs and sports; weight and height of members of athletic teams; high school and other colleges/institutions attended; parents' names and addresses; student work assignments and locations; anticipated date of graduation; and anticipated degree(s). Undergraduate students who wish to have their directory information withheld must file a form available in the Office of Student Data and Registrar or here. Graduate students will fill out this form in their respective graduate offices. The direction to withhold directory information will remain in effect until the student rescinds it in writing. The form for withholding directory information will inform the student of some possible consequences. For example, as long as a nondisclosure order is in effect, the student cannot participate in intercollegiate athletics where team rosters are published, or commencement ceremonies. The form is effective only prospectively. Students who wish to have directory information withheld are encouraged to fill out the form before the beginning of the academic term, so that the student’s name is not printed in any directory.
c. Upon request, St. Thomas may also disclose education records without consent to officials of other colleges or universities in which a student seeks or intends to enroll.
d. Other exceptions to FERPA permit disclosure, without consent, to organizations conducting studies approved by the university as having educational value or concerning financial aid, to accrediting organizations approved by the university carrying out their accrediting functions, in response to a judicial or a lawfully issued subpoena, with a notice of the disclosure being sent to the last known address or email of the student, and to persons in an emergency, if in the judgment of an appropriate university official, knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other person. The full list of exceptions is available at 34 C.F.R. § 99.31.
4. The right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by the University of St. Thomas to comply with the requirements of FERPA. The name and address of the office that administers FERPA is:
Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202-4605
The university also advises students that:
a. Consistent with FERPA, the university may deny access to certain classes of records, including: financial information submitted by parents; confidential letters or recommendations placed in the file prior to Jan. 1, 1975; confidential letters or recommendations to which the student has waived right of inspection; private records of instructors, counselors, or administrators kept for their own use; alumni records which contain only directory information and information collected after the student has left the university; law enforcement unit records, and medical, psychiatric, psychological or similar records.
b. University officials whose employment duties permit them access to information from parents' federal income tax returns may use those returns to determine whether students are dependent on a parent as defined by the IRS. In such cases, FERPA and university policy permit those officials to disclose information from those student's education records to their parents without student consent. The university is not required to notify students or maintain a record of these disclosures.
This statement adheres to the standards of a FERPA annual notification as provided by the United States of America, Department of Education.
Visit the Office of Student Data and Registrar website for additional information regarding FERPA or call (651) 962-6700 if you have questions.