• Parent and Family Association
    A Division of Student Affairs

Guide to Student Privacy Rights

Questions & Answers for University Parents


1. How can I learn how my child is doing?

The best approach is to ask your son or daughter directly. Communicating with young adults isn't easy. They're not always as forthcoming as we would like. The college years, however, are a period of remarkable growth and maturation. The ability and willingness of students to share information and insights usually grows, especially as they acquire the confidence that comes with assuming greater responsibility for their own lives.

2. Does the University have any written policy about information from student records that can be shared with parents?
Yes. Like other colleges and universities across the country, the University is subject to a federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (also called "FERPA" or the "Buckley Amendment"). FERPA sets privacy standards for student educational records and requires institutions to publish a compliance statement, including a statement of related institutional policies. The University policy (titled "Student Access to Educational Records") is available in the undergraduate catalog or online.

3. Where can I find out more information about FERPA?
The U.S. Department of Education enforces FERPA. The Department maintains a FERPA website (with links to FERPA regulations).

4. What records does FERPA cover?
The privacy protection FERPA gives to students is very broad. With limited exceptions discussed below, part 99.3 of the FERPA regulations gives privacy protection to all student "education records." Education records are defined as "[t] hose records that are directly related to a student and [are] [m]aintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution." Examples of student records entitled to FERPA privacy protection are grade reports, transcripts, and most disciplinary files. A more extensive list is available in the undergraduate catalog.

5. What does it mean to say a record is "protected" by FERPA?
Unless personally identifiable information from a student's educational record falls under a specified exception, the information cannot be released to third parties (including parents) without signed and dated written consent from the student.

6. What are the exceptions to FERPA's coverage?
There is a detailed list of exceptions at part 99.3 of the FERPA regulations ("education records" defined) and at 99.31. Perhaps the most important exception allows-but does not require-disclosure [of information in student education records] to the parents of a dependent student, as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986" (part 99.31 (a) (8)). Also, among the records not protected by FERPA are dates of attendance, academic major, and degrees received (see, generally, the Student Access to Educational Records... "Directory Information").

7. I had easy access to my child's school records; why don't I have the same access to records kept by the University?
Under FERPA, the access rights that parents and legal guardians had in the elementary and secondary school setting are transferred to students once a student has turned eighteen or is attending any post secondary educational institution.

8. Why do I have limited access to my child's college records when I am paying his/her college expenses?
As a parent or legal guardian, you normally can have access to your child's college records. The best way to do so is with the student's consent. Nonetheless, as indicated in the answer to question six, if you claim your child as a dependent for federal tax purposes and can provide documentation that your child is a dependent, the University will give you access to his/her education records, as specified in FERPA (see part 99.31 (a) (8)) and in the Student Access to Educational Records. FERPA does not require colleges and universities to grant such parental access. The university does so as a matter of policy.

9. How do I provide documentation of my child's dependent status?
Different university departments have different procedures. Some may require copies of income tax forms, as specified in the Student Access to Educational Records. It's best to ask the department administrator about pertinent department requirements.

10. How can I find out my child's grades?
Most parents ask their child directly. Doing so fosters trust and a sense of mutual responsibility.

11. Will I be notified if my child is put on academic probation or is subject to academic dismissal?
Information about grades and academic standing is sent directly to students. You can, of course, ask your child to keep you informed about his/her academic performance. See the answer to question ten.

12. Will I be notified if my child is hurt or in danger?
The Student Access to Educational Records states that prior consent to disclosure of information from student education records will not be required when notice is made to "[a] ppropriate parties in connection with an emergency, where knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals." We routinely consider parents as "appropriate parties" to notify in such emergencies. For example, if a student living in the residence halls was transported to the hospital in a life-threatening situation, every reasonable effort would be made to notify parents as soon as possible.

13. Will I be informed if my child is treated at the Student Health Center or is seeing a counselor in Counseling Services?
Not normally. In addition to FERPA, state laws and professional ethical codes preclude the University from routinely sharing student medical information and counseling records with third parties, including parents. There are important policy reasons supporting these confidentiality requirements, including the proven therapeutic benefits associated with encouraging students to talk openly and candidly with a physician or counselor-without fear their conversations will be reported to others. Confidentiality, of course, is not absolute. It can be broken (and parents notified as appropriate) if staff members in Student Health Services or Counseling Services determine that a student poses an imminent danger to himself/ herself or to an identifiable third party. Students may also grant permission for staff members to speak with parents.

14. How will I know if my child is subject to University disciplinary action?
Student disciplinary records are protected documents under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA is federal legislation designed to ensure and protect the privacy rights of students. Generally, you will not be privy to the discipline record or any subsequent disciplinary action taken against your student unless your student gives the university written consent to disclose the information. There are exceptions to FERPA that allow the university to inform parents of disciplinary actions and/or records. The exception(s) include any alcohol or drug offense committed by students under the age of 21 and when the student poses a significant threat or danger to themselves or the university community. MTSU notifies parents of all drug offenses and of all third-time alcohol offenses via U.S. Mail. Students may opt to sign up for the PIE (Partners in Education) program that waives their privacy rights and allows parents full access to their disciplinary records; however, with this program the university does not contact the parent, but allows university officials to speak openly with a parent should they contact the university with concerns. We encourage students to speak candidly with their parents or guardians when disciplinary situations arise, but it is up to the individual student about how much information, if any, they choose to disclose.

15. I've heard about changes in FERPA allowing notice to the Public if a student commits a crime of violence. What policy has the University adopted regarding this new Provision?
This recent change in FERPA permits-but does not require release of final results of campus disciplinary proceedings (reached on or after October 7, 1998) regarding specified crimes of violence or non-forcible sex offenses, as provided in part 99.31 (a) (14) (i) of the FERPA regulations, Consistent with other FERPA requirements, the University has decided to make public, upon request, the identities of individuals found responsible in a campus disciplinary hearing for any crime of violence or non-forcible sex offense specified in the law.

16. I've also seen press reports about a new IEPLPA provision allowing notice to parents when a student violates drug or alcohol laws. What position has the University taken on this new rule?
Part 99.31 (a) (15) (i) for the FERPA regulations authorizes-but does not require-disclosure to parents of 'the student's violation of any Federal, State, or local law, or of any rule or policy of the institution, governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance if (A) The institution determines that the student has committed a disciplinary violation with respect to that use or possession; and (B) The student is under the age of 21 at the time of the disclosure to the parent.' The University will notify parents of students under the age of 21 whenever a student has been found responsible for a first (or subsequent) violation of the University drug policy and a third (or subsequent) violation of the University alcohol policy, including policies enforced by the Office of Residence Life.

17. Will I be notified if my child becomes involved with controversial or harmful groups?
We endeavor to notify parents in emergencies, as defined in the Student Access to Educational Records (see the answer to question twelve). Affiliation with a "controversial" or "harmful" group would not normally qualify as such an emergency. The University is a diverse community. Part of the collegiate experience is experimenting with ideas, friendships, and affiliations that may strike others as controversial or harmful. Courts even recognize a "right of association" in this regard protected by the First Amendment. Most parents and teachers work hard to help young people develop better decision-making skills. That process continues in the university environment-both in the classroom and in our activities programming. Ultimately, however, adult students must be given considerable freedom to make their own choices and to learn from their own mistakes.

This information was modified from information published in the "SYNFAX WEEKLY REPORT" dated July 2, 2001, and is reproduced with permission of Synfax Weekly Report.