FERPA – the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended – is a federal law that governs the privacy of student educational records, access to those records, and disclosure of information from them. More information about FERPA can be found on the Department of Education website.
FERPA can be summarized by the following two points:
Right to inspect and review the records
A student may request access to review and inspect their educational records by writing to the University official (i.e., registrar, dean, department chair, or other appropriate UW-Madison person/office) responsible for the records. The written request must indicate the records 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 official to whom the request was submitted, that official shall advise the student of the correct person or office to whom the request should be addressed and it becomes the student’s responsibility to submit the request to that person or office. Upon receipt of the written request, the University official has 45 days to comply. FERPA does not provide the student with the right to access certain records, including but not limited to financial records of a parent, and confidential letters and statements of recommendation for admission, employment or honorary recognition which the student has waived the right to inspect and review.
Right to seek to have the records amended or corrected
A student has the right to request an amendment of their educational record that is believed to be inaccurate. However, FERPA was not intended to provide a process to be used by the student to question substantive judgments that are correctly recorded. The FERPA rights of challenge are not intended to allow a student to contest, for example, a grade in a course because they felt a higher grade should have been assigned. FERPA is intended to ensure the factual and accurate nature of the information in the student’s educational records and the student’s right to verify that information.
In those cases where FERPA intended to provide a student the right to request an amendment to an educational record, the student should write the University official responsible for the record, clearly identify the part of the record they want changed, and specify why it is inaccurate. If the University decides not to amend the record as requested by the student, the University will notify the student of the decision and advise the student of their right to a hearing regarding the request for amendment. Additional information regarding the hearing procedures will be provided to the student when notified of this right.
If UW-Madison decides, as a result of a hearing, not to amend the educational record in accordance with the student’s request, the student may place a written statement in the record commenting upon the information therein, and/or setting forth any reason for disagreement with the institutional decision not to amend the record. Such a statement will become part of the student’s educational record and will be disclosed with it.
In the process of challenging the educational record information, the student may wish to have copies of appropriate documents in their educational record file. The University may assess the student a reasonable per copy fee for such documents. This charge does not apply to copies of the student’s official academic transcript (there is a $10.00 charge for each official transcript; the fee is subject to change at any time). A request for a copy of any document in an educational record will be denied if the student has a hold/service indicator on their records that prevents the release of the official academic transcript, or if the document is a transcript of an original or source document which exists elsewhere.
Right to control disclosure of certain portions of the records
A student has the right to restrict the release of their public directory information by placing a FERPA restriction on that data. Prior to enacting a restriction, a student should carefully consider how the decision may affect him or her in unexpected ways. For example, should a student place a restriction on their degree or name, a prospective employer requesting degree confirmation would be denied such information or the student’s name would not appear in the commencement brochure. UW-Madison will honor a student’s request to restrict the release of directory information but cannot assume responsibility to contact the student for subsequent permission to release the information. Regardless of the effect upon a student, UW-Madison assumes no liability for honoring a student’s request that directory information be restricted. A student who has ceased attending UW-Madison, and whose directory information was not restricted in their last term of attendance, does not have the right to restrict the release of directory information until such time as they re-enrolls at the University.
Students wishing to restrict some or all directory information should log on to Student Center from My UW, click on ‘Privacy’ under Personal Information, then click on the ‘FERPA Restriction’ tab. Even though a student may have placed a FERPA hold, the university has the right to share the student’s information with school officials who have a legitimate educational interest.
Right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education
More information can be found at the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office.
UW-Madison school officials must protect the privacy of student educational records and shall not disclose personally identifiable information about a student or permit inspection of the student’s records without their written consent unless such action is permitted by FERPA.
FERPA Hearing Procedure
Click here for a pdf file of the FERPA Hearing Procedure.