FERPA Guidance for Human Subjects Research

Considerations When Collecting Student Records

When collecting education records from students (K-12 and higher education) The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupils Rights Amendment (PPRA) are two laws that must be taken into consideration.

FERPA (34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. It is the investigator’s responsibility to be aware of when these laws would affect their research and to be aware of his/her obligations with the school.

PPRA (20 U.S. Code § 1232h) is a federal law that affords certain rights to parents of minor students with regard to surveys that ask questions of a personal nature.

FERPA

Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record.

Exceptions to FERPA

1. FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under the
following conditions:

    • School officials with legitimate educational interest;
    • Other schools to which a student is transferring;
    • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
    • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
    • Accrediting organizations;
    • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
    • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
    • State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law
    • Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school.

2. Schools may disclose, without consent, “directory” information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.

Researchers should contact each educational institution from which he/she proposes to access student records and follow that institution’s FERPA policy and procedures when accessing and proposing to disclose any directory information.

3. Schools may disclose information from student education records without prior consent if all personally identifiable information has been removed from the records, provided that the institution has made a reasonable determination that a student’s identity would not be personally identifiable, whether through single or multiple releases, and taking into account other reasonably available information.

Note that it is the educational institution that holds the student records that has to make this determination.

PPRA

The PPRA applies to the programs and activities of a State educational agency (SEA), local educational agency (LEA), or other recipient of funds under any program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. It governs the administration to students of a survey, analysis, or evaluation that concerns one or more of the following eight protected areas:

  • political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent;
  • mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;
  • sex behavior or attitudes;
  • illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;
  • critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
  • legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and
    ministers;
  • religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent; or,
  • income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or
    for receiving financial assistance under such program).

Researchers whose research is subject to the PPRA should review the policies of the local educational
agency early in the study design process.

References

1) Things to consider when collecting student records (Yale University IRB)
2) University of Pittsburgh Department of Education Policies and Procedures
3) FERPA: Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (Lehigh University)