Educational Records and Research (FERPA)

What if my research involves educational records?

Researchers are required to adhere to regulations when student records are involved. These regulations exist separately from IRB decisions. That is, PIs must adhere to The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) in addition to IRB decisions.

What is FERPA?

FERPA is a federal law that gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. 

What part of FERPA relates to UCSC IRB protocols?

Generally, schools must obtain written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record. FERPA defines educational records as records containing information (in any medium - paper, electronic, microfilm, etc.) that are directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational institution or by a party acting for the institution.

FERPA Consent Form/Parent Permission Requirements

The written consent of adults or of parents on behalf of minors authorizing the release of records release must specify the records that may be disclosed, state the purpose of the disclosure, and identify the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure may be made. If a parent or eligible student so requests, the educational agency or institution shall provide him or her with a copy of the records disclosed. Signed and dated written consent may include a record and signature in electronic form that identifies and authenticates a particular person as the source and also indicates such person's approval of the information contained in the electronic consent.

When Consent/Parent Permission is NOT Required under FERPA

FERPA allows schools to disclose educational records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31):

  • School officials with legitimate educational interests
  • Other schools to which a student is transferring
  • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes
  • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies
  • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student
  • Accrediting organizations
  • Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school
  • State and local authorities within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific state law
  • Directory Information. FERPA permits the following as: the student's name, address, telephone listing, electronic mail address, photograph, date and place of birth, major fields of study, dates of attendance, grade level, enrollment status, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, degrees, honors and awards received, and the most recent educational institution attended.
    However, students should be given the opportunity to file a request to prevent disclosure of directory information.

What is PPRA? 

PPRA specifies the right of parents and guardians to inspect any instrument used to collect information concerning:

  • political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student's parent
  • mental and psychological problems of the student or the student's family
  • sex behavior or attitudes
  • illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior
  • critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships
  • legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers
  • income
    Parental/guardian consent is required before such instruments can be used to gather information from a minor.

Tips for Researchers:

  • Check with school district registrar, or with UCSC registrar Tchad Sanger (if using UCSC data you already have access to via your employment, etc.) to ensure you follow FERPA regulations. For example, if not getting signed student/parent permission based on an accepted condition in 34 CFR § 99.31 stated above, check with registrar to see if you need a formal written exception.
  • Be very specific about what data you are requesting to the IRB and to the registrar (e.g., instead of a generic response such as ‘academic record’, list all items you will collect: GPAs and cumulative GPAs, students’ academic transcript, course and grade history, gender identity, ethnicity, etc.).
  • Make sure your consent forms comply with both UC Policy and FERPA and PPRA regulations.

For more information, see US Department of Education FERPA website or contact the registrar office that holds the educational records you are seeking.