The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs the release of “education records” by a university. As a general rule, FERPA prohibits universities that receive federal funding from releasing an “education record” to any one other than the respective student without the student’s written consent.
FERPA defines “education record” very broadly: “[T]he term ‘education records’ means . . . those records, files, documents, and other materials which (i) contain information directly related to a student; and (ii) are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution.” In other words, anything that a university or its agent has about a student is generally an “education record” and is, therefore, subject to FERPA. However, a record is not an “education record” under FERPA if it does not contain “personally identifiable information” about a student. Therefore, FERPA would not prohibit the disclosure of a record if the record does not contain the student-subject’s name or “[o]ther information that would make the student’s identity easily traceable.”
FERPA applies to BYU because BYU participates in the federal financial aid program. Therefore, absent an exception, BYU and its units (including the Law School) may not release any education record to anyone other than the student or someone having the student’s written consent.
FERPA lists several exceptions to its general prohibition on nonconsensual disclosure of education records. One such exception allows schools to release education records to “school officials, including teachers within the educational institution . . ., who have been determined by such . . . institution to have legitimate educational interest, including the educational interests of the child for whom consent would otherwise be required.” Thus, FERPA allows a university to disclose a student’s education record to any professor who the university determines to have a “legitimate education interest” in seeing the record. As authorized by the university, the Law School has adopted the following interpretations regarding the application of the legitimate education interest standard to faculty perusal of student records:
- Student records cannot be examined for such reasons as satisfying general curiosity or learning how one’s children or other relatives are doing or how the friends or romantic interests of children or other relatives are doing.
- Faculty can examine the law school’s records regarding students for the purposes of encouraging students to participate in employment (including as research and teaching assistants) and other activities and opportunities that will assist in education enhancement or career development. Faculty can also review relevant student records in connection with their assigned disciplinary responsibilities, readmission responsibilities, decanal responsibilities and committee work responsibilities and in connection with an assigned responsibility to handle a student petition or application (including requests for letters of recommendation).
- Faculty who wish to become acquainted with, or preview the quality of, students registered for their classes cannot examine student records for this purpose, but can obtain from the Law School Registrar a list of the registered students’ grade point averages as long as they are not matched with the students’ names or other identifying information.
The Law School administration will provide additional interpretations of “legitimate education interest” as circumstances require.