FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act)

One of the most significant changes a parent experiences in sending a son or daughter to college is the difference in privacy standards for educational records at the college. The college is subject to a federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (also called FERPA or the Buckley Amendment) that sets privacy standards for student educational records and requires institutions to publish a compliance statement, including a statement of related institutional policies. Reference to this policy often raises questions from parents, and we have provided the answers to many of these questions here:

What records does FERPA cover?
The privacy protection FERPA gives to students is very broad. With limited exceptions, the FERPA regulations give privacy protection to all students’ “education records.” Education records are defined as “those records that are directly related to a student and are maintained 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. FERPA does not cover counseling or medical records but other policies do.

How can I find out my student’s grades?
The best approach is to ask your son or daughter directly. We recognize that this communication may be a challenge—young adults are 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.

Is there a single waiver that my son or daughter can sign so I can have access to all of his or her records or are there separate waivers for different offices?
Macalester College does not have a single waiver that students can sign to give parents access to all their records. In carrying out their assigned responsibilities, many offices at the college collect and maintain information about students. Four offices have records on all students. The Registrar’s Office maintains information pertaining to a student’s enrollment (registration) and official academic record. The Student Financial Aid Office maintains financial aid information, Student Accounts maintains information about charges assessed and payments made to a student’s account and the Office of Student Affairs maintains the students overall record of activities, discipline, and accomplishments. If you desire access to certain information, we recommend that you ask your son or daughter to provide permission to the office that is handling a particular matter.

Why do I have limited access to my son or daughter’s college records especially when I am paying the bills?
Under FERPA, the access rights that parents and legal guardians had in the elementary and secondary school setting are transferred to students when the student has turned eighteen, or is attending any post-secondary educational institution. Parents can be given access to their son or daughter’s records if the student authorizes the permission in writing or in connection with the student’s application for, or receipt of, financial aid.

How can I make sure the college-related bills and grades are sent to me?
If you are interested in obtaining your student’s grades, please discuss this with your son or daughter. (S)he can give you the password to access his/her academic record found on the Macalester website. If parents want to receive a paper copy of the student record, the student must go into the Registrar’s office and sign a waiver requesting the record be sent to their parents or guardians.

Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

FERPA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education. The Department maintains a FERPA website (http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/), with links to FERPA regulations.

Will I be notified if my son or daughter is placed on academic probation?
No. Information about grades and academic standing is provided directly to students. You can, of course, ask your student to keep you informed about his or her academic performance.

Will I be notified if my son or daughter is hurt or in danger?
If we learn of an emergency involving one of our students, we will attempt to notify the student’s parents, in accordance with our emergency notification policy and procedures. Hospitals and police agencies will also follow their own notification protocols. Students are responsible for submitting their emergency contact information to the Registrar.

What if my son or daughter is in danger off-campus?

Generally, students are not subject to our control or supervision when they are off-campus. However, if we learn of an emergency involving one of our students, we will attempt to notify the student’s parents, in accordance with our emergency notification policy and procedures. Hospitals and police agencies will also follow their own notification protocols.

I’ve heard about a FERPA provision allowing notice to parents when a student violates alcohol or drug laws. What position has the college taken on this new rule?
FERPA regulations authorize—but do 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.” The Dean of Students will contact parents if their student’s alcohol or drug use is endangering themselves or threatens to endanger others.

Will I be informed if my son or daughter is treated at the College Health and Wellness Center?
Not normally, if your son or daughter is over 18. State and Federal laws preclude the College from sharing student health information with third parties, including parents, without the student’s consent. The Health and Wellness Center routinely encourages students who are very ill to let their parents know the situation, and to let the provider contact the parent. However on occasion, in cases that are critical to life safety, we have contacted parents without or against the permission of the student. If your son or daughter is under 18, the State and Federal laws are different, and you will be contacted, except in cases of family planning, sexually transmitted disease, and substance abuse treatment, per state laws.

Will I be informed if my son or daughter is seeing a counselor at the Health and Wellness Center?
In most cases, no. State laws and professional ethical codes preclude the College from sharing student counseling records with third parties, including parents, without the student’s consent. 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 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 counselors determine that a student poses an imminent danger to self, or to an identifiable third party.

How will I know if my son or daughter is subject to College disciplinary action?
As the family member of a student at Macalester, you may have numerous questions and concerns about non-academic conflict resolution and discipline process. The Office of Residence Life and in some cases, the Office of Student Affairs, administers this process. The Director of Campus Life and the Dean of Students are always available to discuss general information about the resolution process, College regulations, and related laws. It is important to know that federal law prohibits staff from releasing any information about a student’s involvement in the discipline process without the student’s written permission, even to family members.