Coffee break Bulletin

Student privacy rights: what training managers need to know

Posted: Nov. 27, 2018

As a training and education manager, would you know how to react when asked for information about a student? Read on to learn about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and its application to training centers and educational institutions.

What is FERPA?

FERPA provides current and former students protection regarding their individual privacy and limits the information that can be shared about them without their consent. For students under the age of 18, such as those attending fire or emergency services training programs through high school vocational programs, the parents retain the privacy rights. When the student turns 18, these rights transfer to the student.

FERPA provisions

The law applies to all educational facilities that receive federal funding. It generally requires a written release to transfer student information. However, information may be shared if the use meets any of the following criteria:

  • Release to a school official for a legitimate purpose.
  • Release to a school which the student is transferring to.
  • Transfer to a specified official for audit or evaluation purposes.
  • Transfer to organizations conducting research for the school.
  • Transfer to accrediting agencies.
  • Transfer in accordance with a lawfully executed judicial order.
  • Transfer during health and/or safety emergencies.
  • Transfer to state or local authorities, within the juvenile justice system, per specific state law.

FERPA and directory information

Schools may also possess directory information. Directory information includes the student’s name, address, phone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards the student received, and dates of attendance.

Generally, directory information may be released without consent. However, parents and students must be given notice of the presence of directory information and have an opportunity to opt-out of releasing it without consent. Schools are also responsible for ensuring that students and parents are made aware of their rights under the law.

Applying FERPA: What would you do?

You are the training center coordinator for a community college-based fire science program that receives federal funding. You just received a request from a local newspaper seeking personal information regarding one of your former students, a firefighter who was recently honored with a community service award.

Can you release the information without the student’s written consent?

No: You cannot release the information.

You can't provide the information to the newspaper without a written release from the student. In addition, if the student opted out of directory information, you can't release that information without the student’s consent.

Action step to learn more about training legal mandates

Apply for the National Fire Academy course Fire and Emergency Services Training Program Challenges to learn more about FERPA, other legal mandates that impact training, and how to meet the day-to-day challenges faced by fire and EMS training managers.

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