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Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Access to Student Education Records

Also known as the “Buckley Amendment,” the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) is a federal law enacted in 1974 that affords students certain rights with respect to their education records.

Specifically, FERPA affords students:

  1. the right to inspect and review their education records
  2. the right to request the amendment of the student’s education records that the student believes are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the student’s privacy rights under FERPA,
  3. the right to provide written consent before the University discloses personally identifiable information from the student’s education records, except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without consent, and
  4. the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by the University to comply with FERPA. 

The University strives to fully comply with this law by protecting the privacy of education records and judiciously evaluating requests for release of information from those records.

I. Definitions

A. Student.  A student is a person who attends or who has previously attended The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, including attendance in person, by correspondence, by distance (using video conference, satellite, Internet, or other technology), or a period during which a person is working under a work study program.  This does not include persons who have been admitted to the University but have not registered for classes.  

B. Education Record. An education record is a record  directly related to a student that is maintained by the University or by a person acting for the University.   Excluded from the definition of an education record are:

  1. Records that are kept in the sole possession of the maker of the record, are used only as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record.
  2. Law enforcement records created and  maintained by the Office of Safety and Security solely for a law enforcement purposes.
  3. Records made or maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or other recognized professional or paraprofessional if the records are used only for treatment of a student and made available only to those persons providing the treatment.
  4. Records that relate to an individual who is employed by the University and that (i) are made and maintained in the normal course of business, (ii) are not available for use for any other purpose, and (iii) relate exclusively to the individual in that individual’s capacity as an employee.  This exception does not apply to records that relate to a student in attendance at the University who is employed as a result of his or her status as a student.
  5. Peer graded papers before the papers are collected and recorded by faculty.
  6. Records created or received by the University after an individual is no longer a student in attendance and which are not directly related to the individual’s attendance as a student (i.e., alumni records).

C. Personally identifiable information. 

As of January 3, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s FERPA regulations expand the circumstances under which your education records and personally identifiable information (PII) contained in such records – including your Social Security number, grades, or other private information – may be released without your consent.

  • The U.S. Comptroller General, the U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Secretary of Education, or state and local education authorities (“Federal and State Authorities”) may allow access to your records and (PII) without your consent to any third party designated by a Federal or State Authority to evaluate a federal- or state-supported education program.  The evaluation may relate to any program that is ‘principally engaged in the provision of education,’ such as early childhood education and job training, as well as any program that is administered by an education agency or institution.
  • Federal and State Authorities may allow access to your education records and PII without your consent to researchers performing certain types of studies, in certain cases even when we object to or do not request such research.  Federal and State Authorities must obtain certain use-restriction and data security promises from the entities that they authorize to receive your PII, but the Authorities need not maintain direct control over such entities.  In addition, in connection with Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, State Authorities may collect, compile, permanently retain, and share without your consent PII from your education records, and they may track your participation in education and other programs by linking such PII to other personal information about you that they obtain from other Federal or State data sources, including workforce development, unemployment insurance, child welfare, juvenile justice, military service, and migrant student records systems.

Personally identifiable information includes, but is not limited to:

    1. A student’s name;
    2. The name of a student’s parent or other family members;
    3. The address of a student or a student’s family;
    4. A personal identifier, such as a student’s social security number, student number, or biometric record;
    5. Other indirect identifiers, such as a student’s date of birth, place of birth, and mother’s maiden name;
    6. Other information that, alone or in combination, is linked or linkable to a specific student that would allow a reasonable person in the University community, who does not have personal knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to identify the student with reasonable certainty; or
    7. Information requested by a person who the University reasonably believes knows the identity of the student to whom the education record relates.

II. Scope of Student Rights to Inspect and Review Education Records

A. A student shall be permitted to inspect and review his or her education records within 45 days following the date on which the University receives the student’s request for access.  To exercise this right, a student should submit to the registrar, dean, head of the academic department, or other appropriate official, a written request that identifies the record(s) the student wishes to inspect.  The University official 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 University official to whom the request was submitted, that official shall advise the student of the correct official to whom the request should be addressed. 

B. A student shall be provided with a copy of any part or all of his or her education record on request but may be charged a fee not to exceed the University’s cost of producing a copy of the education record as a condition to receiving it, unless the imposition of a fee effectively prevents a student from exercising the right to inspect and review the record.   A student shall not be charged a fee to search for or retrieve the student’s education records.

C. A student does not have the right to inspect and review:

  1. The financial records of the student’s parents.
  2. Confidential letters and statements of recommendation which were placed in the University’s records prior to January 1, 1975.
  3. Confidential letters and statements of recommendation placed in the student’s education records after January 1, 1975, respecting admission to the University, application for employment, or receipt of an honor or honorary recognition if the student has signed a waiver of access rights.  The University shall not require any student to waive access rights.  A party from whom a recommendation is sought may require such a waiver.  A student who has signed a waiver shall be notified by the University of the names of parties providing confidential letters and statements of recommendation.  Confidential letters and statements of recommendation shall be used only for the purpose for which they were solicited.
  4. Records that personally identify other students even if the student also is personally identified. In such a case, the student shall simply be informed of the specific information about the student that is contained in the record.

D. Reasonable requests by a student for an explanation or interpretation of records shall be granted.

III. The Right to Seek to Amend Education Records

A. FERPA gives a student the right to request the amendment of the student’s education records that the student believes are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the student’s privacy rights under FERPA.  The right to request the amendment of education records does not include a right to question substantive educational judgments that have been correctly recorded.  Disputes between the University and the student concerning the content of a student’s education record should be resolved informally, if possible. 

B. A student who wishes to ask the University to amend a record should write the University official responsible for the record, clearly identify the part of the record the student wants changed, and specify why it should be changed.  The University official in charge of the office or department to which the challenge is submitted shall mark the date of the request on the front page of the request.

C. If the University decides not to amend the record as requested, within ten (10) days of the receipt of the student’s request, the University will notify the student in writing of the decision and the student’s right to a hearing regarding the request for amendment.  The written notification to the student shall be reasonably in advance of the hearing and shall notify the student about:

  1. When the hearing will be conducted (no later than 30 days from the date on which notification is given or mailed to the student);
  2. Where the hearing will be conducted; and
  3. Who will conduct the hearing (the official in charge of the office or department or his or her designee may act as hearing examiner).

D. A hearing on a student’s request to amend the student’s education record shall include the following procedures:

  1. The hearing examiner should not have a direct interest in the outcome of the hearing.
  2. The student may, at his or her own expense, be assisted or represented by one or more individuals of his or her own choice, including an attorney.
  3. The student shall be provided with a full and fair opportunity to present relevant evidence in support of the challenge including any records, testimony of witnesses, or other evidence which the student reasonably believes to support the challenge. Material which is redundant or immaterial need not be accepted or considered as evidence. The hearing examiner may require that voluminous material be summarized if the examiner deems such action appropriate.
  4. The hearing examiner may request the presence of witnesses at the hearing in addition to those called by the student.  The student shall be made aware of and have an opportunity to rebut any evidence considered by the hearing examiner which would serve to disprove the student’s challenge.
  5. Within thirty (30) days of the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing examiner shall make his or her decision in writing.  In reaching a decision, the hearing examiner shall consider only the evidence presented at the hearing and must include in a summary of the evidence and the reasons for the decision in the written decision.
  6. A record of the hearing shall be maintained in the office or department to which the challenge was submitted which notes all particulars of the challenge including date received, date of hearing, name of hearing examiner, names of witnesses, decision reached, and the date on which notification of decision was sent.  The record shall include a copy of the challenge, the decision, and any written or other tangible evidence submitted.

E. If, as a result of a hearing, the University decides that the information in the education record is not inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the privacy rights of the student, the University shall inform the student of the right to place a statement in the record commenting on the contested information in the record and stating why he or she disagrees with the decision of the University.

IV. Release of Records to Third Parties

A. The University will not disclose personally identifiable information from a student’s education records without the prior written consent of the student, except as authorized by FERPA.  FERPA authorizes the University to disclose personally identifiable information from a student’s education records without the prior written consent of the student when the disclosure is:

  1. To school officials with legitimate educational interests.  A school official is a person employed by the University in an administrative, supervisory, academic or research, or support staff position (including law en­forcement unit personnel and health staff); a person or company with whom the University has contracted as its agent to act or provide a service instead of using University employees or officials (such as an attorney, auditor, consultant, volunteer, or collection agent), the person is under the direct control of the University, and the person is subject to the same conditions governing the use and redisclosure of education records that apply to other school officials ; a person serving on the Board of Trustees; a student serving on an official committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance com­mittee, or assisting another school official in performing his or her tasks; or a contractor, consultant, volunteer, or other outside party to whom the University has outsourced University services or functions that would otherwise be performed by University employees, the party is under the direct control of the University with respect to the use and maintenance of education records, and the party is subject to the same conditions governing the use and redisclosure of education records that apply to other school officials.
    • A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibilities for the University.  The determination as to whether a school official has a legitimate educational interest will be made by the custodian of records on a case-by-case basis.
  2. Upon request, to officials of another school in which a student seeks or intends to enroll, or where the student is already enrolled so long as the disclosure is for purposes related to the student’s enrollment or transfer (this includes sending updated or corrected information and sending disciplinary or health records).  The student shall be provided with written notification of the disclosure unless the student initiated the disclosure.  In addition, the University is not required to obtain the written consent of a student before it responds to the request of an institution to explain the meaning or validity of an education record sent to it in connection with a student’s new enrollment.
  3. To authorized federal, state, or local government officials. Specific requests for access by government officials shall be brought to the attention of the Office of General Counsel as soon as possible after receipt of such request and prior to the release of records.
  4. To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena. Release shall be made only after a reasonable attempt is made to notify the student of such order or subpoena, unless applicable law or the order or subpoena by its terms prohibits contacting the student.  The University may also refrain from notifying a student if it receives an ex parte order obtained by the United States Attorney General (or designee not lower than an Assistant Attorney General) concerning investigations or prosecutions of an offense listed in 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(B) or an act of domestic or international terrorism as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2331.  The student bears the responsibility for keeping an up-to-date address on file in the Records and Registration Office.  The records custodian shall notify the Office of General Counsel upon the receipt of a judicial order or subpoena. 
  5. To a party who is identified as the provider or creator of an education record (this is not a disclosure under FERPA).
  6. To an appropriate party in connection with an emergency if the University determines, based on the totality of the circumstances, that (i) there is an articulable and significant threat to the health or safety of the student or other individuals and (ii) the party’s knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.   Such health or safety emergencies shall be brought to the attention of the Office of the General Counsel.  An appropriate party may be a parent of a student even if the student is not a dependent for income tax purposes.
  7. To persons or organizations in connection with a student's application for, or receipt of, financial aid, if the information is necessary for such purposes as to determine eligibility, the amount, conditions or enforce the terms and conditions of the aid.  The student shall be provided with written notification of the disclosure.
  8. To accrediting organizations in order to carry out their accrediting functions.
  9. To a parent of a student who is a dependent for federal tax purposes, as defined by Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.   However, FERPA does not require the University to disclose information to parents.  The University presumes that students are independent and generally does not release information based on a stdent’s tax dependency.  A student will be presumed to be a non-dependent
  10. To organizations conducting a study for, or on behalf of, the University for the purpose of developing, validating, or administering predictive tests, administering student aid programs, or improving instruction, if the study is conducted in a manner that does not permit personal identification of students by individuals other than representatives of the organization and the information is destroyed when no longer needed  for the purposes for which the study was conducted.
  11. Authorized by the student pursuant to a signed and dated written consent that specifies the records to be disclosed, states the purpose of the disclosure, and identifies the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure may be made.  Regardless of whether the student is a dependent, a student may give a parent access to his or her educational records by submitting, by mail or personal delivery, a notarized form, which can be obtained in the Records and Registration Office.
  12. To Veterans Administration officials pursuant to Title 38, section 3690(c), United States Code.
  13. To the court, without a court order or subpoena, those records that are (i) necessary to defend the University when a student initiates legal action against the University or (2) relevant for the University to proceed with a legal action as a plaintiff against a student.
  14. To an alleged victim of an alleged perpetrator of a crime of violence or a non-forcible sex offense (or to the alleged victim’s next-of-kin if the alleged victim dies as a result of the crime or offense), but only the final results of the disciplinary proceeding conducted by the University with respect to that alleged crime or offense, regardless of whether the University concluded a violation was committed.  This disclosure is required by Tennessee law.
  15. The disclosure of information concerning registered sex offenders, provided to the University under the Wetterling Act, including information made available under state sex offender registration and community notification programs.
  16. To anyone the disclosure of the final results of a disciplinary proceeding conducted by the University with respect to a student who is an alleged perpetrator of a crime of violence or non-forcible sex offense, if the University has concluded the student committed a violation of the University’s rules or policies.  The University may not disclose the name of any other student, including a victim or witness, without the prior written consent of the other student.  The “final results” are limited to the name of the student being disciplined, a description of the violation committed, and any sanction imposed by the University.  Final results of disciplinary proceedings reached prior to October 7, 1998 shall not be released.
  17. The disclosure to a parent of a student regarding 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:
    • the University determines that the student has committed a disciplinary violation with respect to that use or possession; and
    • the student is under the age of 21 at the time of the disclosure to the parent
    This disclosure is required by Tennessee law.
  18. The disclosure of information the University has designated as “directory information,” unless a student has signed and filed a valid Request to Withhold Directory Information.  Directory information is information contained in a student’s education record that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.  The University has designated the following as directory information: a student’s name, address, telephone listing, UTC email address, major fields of study, college, classification, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of athletic team members, dates of attendance, enrollment status (e.g., undergraduate or graduate; full-time or part-time), degrees and awards received, dates of degrees, and the most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student. 

    FERPA permits the University to disclose directory information without a student’s consent unless a student signs and files a Request to Withhold Directory Information with the Records Office.  In order to restrict directory information from being published in the printed student directory, students must sign and file the Request to Withhold Directory Information by the date designated in the Registrar’s annual email to students regarding their FERPA rights.  A student may not use the right to request that directory information be withheld to prevent disclosure of the student’s name, e-mail address, or other identifiers in a class in which the student is enrolled.  The University must continue to honor a request to not release directory information after an individual no longer attends the University if the request was made while the individual was in attendance at the University and the request has not been rescinded. 

    Directory information does not include a student’s social security number or student id number.  In addition, a student’s social security number, a student id number, or other non-directory information will not be used either alone or in combination with other data to identify a student when disclosing or confirming directory information, unless the student has provided written consent.  Instead, other directory information will be used to identify a student.  When a person submits a non-directory information (e.g., social security number) along with a request for directory information, the person will be informed that the University has not used the non-directory information to locate the student’s records and that the University’s response does not confirm the accuracy of the non-directory information supplied with the request for directory information.

B. The custodian of a student’s education records shall maintain a record of requests for access to and disclosures of information from a student’s education records as long as the education records are maintained. The record shall indicate the name of the party who obtained or requested access, what information, if any, was received, and the legitimate interest the party had in requesting or obtaining the information.  The record shall be kept with the student’s records and shall be available only for inspection by the student and University personnel in charge of the particular records concerned.

Record keeping is not required if the request was from, or the disclosure was to:

  1. the student;
  2. a school official determined to have a legitimate educational interest;
  3. a party with written consent from the student;
  4. a party seeking directory information; or
  5. a federal grand jury or law enforcement agency pursuant to a judicial order or subpoena that by its terms requires nondisclosure.

When the University discloses personally identifiable information from a student’s education record under the health or safety emergency exception, the University must include in the record of the disclosure:

  1. the articulable and significant threat to the health or safety or a student or other individuals that formed the basis for the disclosure; and
  2. the parties to whom the University disclosed the information.

C. Whenever records are released to any third party, a written statement shall accompany the records ’ release stating that the release is conditional upon the third party not permitting any other party to have access to the records without the student’s written consent.  This requirement does not apply to disclosures to parents of dependent students; disclosures made pursuant to court orders, lawfully issued subpoenas, or litigation; disclosures of directory information; disclosures made in connection with a disciplinary proceeding; or disclosures made to parents of a violation of law, rule or policy governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance, if the student is under age 21 at the time of the disclosure; or a party who is identified as the provider or creator of an education record. 

V. Destruction of Education Records

All or part of a student's education records may at any time be removed from a file and destroyed by University personnel authorized to perform such act. However, once a student requests access to his or her records, such removal and destruction may not occur until access has been granted.

VI. Custodians of Education Records

The Registrar shall serve as custodian of all undergraduate student education records maintained by the Office of Records. The Director of Graduate School shall serve as custodian of graduate student education records. All other student education records shall be in the custody of Student Development.

VII. University Resources

Questions related to FERPA or the University’s policies concerning the privacy of students’ education records should be directed to the Records and Registration Office, 109 Race Hall, 615 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37403, (423) 425-4416.  Additional information can be found on the website of the Records and Registration Office.

VIII. Complaints

Complaints  concerning alleged failures by the University to comply with the requirements of FERPA may be filed with the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202-5901.

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