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FERPA keeps parents out of the loop


By Mitra Taj
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 22, 2004
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Thanks to a federal law protecting the privacy of university students, concerned parents may have a hard time keeping tabs on their children's academic progress.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, enacted in 1974, gives financially independent students, not their parents, the right to access their personal information. If a student is claimed as a dependent on their parent's tax form, parents can file an affidavit to access their children's academic and financial records.

But even financially independent students don't have the exclusive right to their records. According to the Office of Curriculum and Registration Web site, university employees with "legitimate educational interests" are FERPA exceptions.

And since 2001, with the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, which gave the government more access to citizens' personal information, FERPA requires universities to give even nonconsensual student information to law enforcement officers investigating terrorism. The agency seeking the information has to provide a subpoena or court order.

Veda Kowalski, associate dean of students, said the UA informs parents when students under 21 violate the university's alcohol or drug policies. Parents of students of all ages in emergency situations are also notified.

The Higher Education Amendments of 1998 changed FERPA to allow universities to inform parents of drug- and alcohol-related disciplinary violations committed by all students under 21. It also permitted the release of information about disciplinary hearings of students who committed violations of university policies related to a violent crime or sexual offense.

Kowalski said she gets calls every year from parents curious about how their students are doing.

"The majority of them will understand why we can't give out that information," Kowalski said. "But some are concerned about why they can't access that information."

Students, meanwhile, appreciate the federal protection of their privacy.

Kyle Sabine, a pre-business freshman, said though he gets good grades and doesn't need to hide anything from his parents, the FERPA is symbolic of an important transition for freshmen.

"Finally they don't have any control," Sabine said. "It's my business."

Kowalski suggests parents should keep up communication with their students instead of relying on federal documents.

"Keep an open dialogue with students about decision-making, about how they're doing academically, about how they're adjusting to university life, about what they do in their free time," Kowalski said.



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