A FERPA question (a different tack)

FERPA is discussed here mostly or exclusively in the context of rec letters. My question is entirely different.

Sadly, our DD decided to “place confidentiality flags” on her student records.

The college tells us that because of that, they are not allowed to discuss anything related to her with us, the parents, or share any piece of info about her. Imagine my surprise when a short visit to the Dep of Education website revealed the following:

Can parents view a child’s post-secondary education record?

FERPA generally prohibits the nonconsensual disclosure of information derived from education records, except in certain specified circumstances. One of these exceptions permits the nonconsensual disclosure of information derived from education records to that student’s parent if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student, nor the parent’s status as custodial parent, is relevant to determining whether disclosure of information from the education records of eligible students to a parent without written consent is permissible under FERPA. If a student is claimed as a dependent by either parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision, absent a court order specifically prohibiting it.
(Frequently Asked Questions | Protecting Student Privacy. )

Am I misreading it? It seems to say that the college cannot reject our request, and if they do, we can report it to the DoE, and the college can be compelled.

Or perhaps the college can overwrite it with their own, more stringent disclosure rules?

All comments, especially from legal professionals, are very welcome.

I guess my question is….why do you want these records?

The only college access we required from our kids was for the Bursar…and billing. Since we were paying the bill, we needed to have this access.

We also would NOT pay the bills for the next term without seeing the grades from the previous term. But all that required was a sit down with our kid at the computer while they brought up their grades.

But to answer your question….print that out and discuss with your kid’s college.

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The answer is under another thread I posted not long ago, about ‘Going No Contact with Parents’
I already copied/pasted it in an email to - what a job title! - Dean of Students for Academic and Personal Success.
I just wanted to see if any parent who is also an attorney or went through a similar situation can tell me where I stand, legally

The information from my D’s university is pretty vague. Lots of use of the word “may” and “not required”.

I remember when my D was a freshman there was a presentation at a parent meeting about talking to our student about setting up a proxy account. The proxy account allows us to pay her tuition and see final semester grades.

Here’s what Purdue says in their FAQ FERPA site:

I AM THE PARENT OF A PURDUE STUDENT. CAN I SEE MY SON OR DAUGHTER’S TRANSCRIPT, CLASS SCHEDULE, OR OTHER EDUCATION RECORD?

As a parent, you may have been accustomed to seeing your child’s education records while he or she was in elementary or high school. When a student turns 18 years old or enters Purdue University at any age, all rights afforded to you as a parent under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99, transfer to the student (“eligible student”). However, FERPA provides ways in which Purdue University may—but is not required to—share information from an eligible student’s education records with parents, without the student’s consent. For example:

  • Purdue may disclose education records to parents if the student is claimed as a dependent for tax purposes.
  • Purdue may disclose education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their son or daughter.
  • Purdue may inform parents if the student, if he or she is under age 21, has violated any law or policy concerning the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.
  • A school official may generally share with a parent information that is based on that official’s personal knowledge or observation of the student.

Seems like it’s at the discretion of the university to disclose.

Could the language “May” as opposed to “must” be the differing issue. Must would indicate they have to. May…not so much so.

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The Purdue language mirrors the statue language in that it gives the school permission to disclose but doesn’t mandate or require. Perhaps that’s because if disclosure was required then schools would need to ascertain which students were dependents and would have an affirmative obligation to send all educational info to those parents whether they requested it or not….an administrative headache to say the least. Or the statute drafting was sloppy…also quite possible.

The statute also states:

§99.4 What are the rights of parents?

An educational agency or institution shall give full rights under the Act to either parent, unless the agency or institution has been provided with evidence that there is a court order, State statute, or legally binding document relating to such matters as divorce, separation, or custody that specifically revokes these rights.

Reading the two statutory provisions together I’d feel pretty confident that schools must fulfill a parent request that falls within the exception. And the parent can file a complaint with the DoE if they believe the school is violating the terms of the statute.

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@vpa2019

If a parent is not supporting their child, wouldn’t that child no longer be a dependent?

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It hinges on whether the parent claims the child as a dependent per IRS requirements which goes beyond just “support”. But yes if you’ve completely cut off support to your child you wouldn’t be able to claim them as a dependent. Cutting off just tuition probably wouldn’t move the needle.

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As per your last thread, I am pretty sure you said you had cut your daughter off financially after she went no-contact (Please correct me if I’m wrong and you are still financially supporting her regardless of her no-contact choice).

I think as the statute is written that you might be able to get information necessary to fulfill your tax obligations/disclosures if she is a tax dependent. I am not sure at all that an adult child’s grades or place of residence would be necessary for the school to disclose. You may be able to argue you needed proof of good standing, but the school could write a letter to that effect rather than giving you access to your adult child’s transcript or exact residential location (neither of which is necessary for tax purposes).

Again, though, I would highly recommend you stop posting about this topic on this board, now more than ever. As you are trying to get information about your daughter’s current situation, also realize that all the information you are sharing here is also easily available for your daughter (or any of her friends) to find. The two threads you’ve begun about this topic may not be helpful to either cause you are pursuing: reconciling with your child and/or trying to get information from her college.

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I will ask again - why? If you have decided to stop paying tuition for your kid because of their behavior, why would you care how well they are doing? You are not cutting them off because you suspect they are failing, you are cutting them off because of something that they are doing which is unrelated to their performance in school.

I mean, if they are getting straight As, will that make a difference in any way?

Seriously, what difference is obtaining this information going to make?

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Thank you very much for all the comments, I asked a legal question and received a lot of unsolicited therapeutical advice. But I am sure posters meant well.
That is why I very much appreciate vpa2019’s replies.

I think May and Must are two completely different categories vis-a-vis disclosure.

It’s clear that if there is a subpoena-- the college must disclose. And it seems clear that if the college is notified by the student that there is an order of protection/restraining order, it absolutely would not disclose. But between those two extremes there is a LOT of gray area, and most colleges have many more lawyers on staff and on retainer than the typical parent does.

And getting jammed up by filing a complaint with the DOE (which will likely get resolved AFTER the kid graduates) seems like a heavy lift.

I am not a lawyer, but I’ve seen various shades of legal gray play out with folks I know and the colleges their kids attend. More success with highly limited disclosure (i.e. not asking for the entire transcript, just “evidence that my senior son is on track to graduate in June”) and more success when it’s framed appropriately “we have budgeted for 8 semesters total, so if Suzy is not on track to graduate on time, we need to figure out our financial Plan B”. If the college gets a whiff that they are being asked to intervene in a family dispute you’re going to get them lawyering up pretty quickly I’d guess…

HTH…

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When I worked with undergraduate students, we would not discuss FERPA-covered information with parents unless there was a signed consent from the student on file (that information was readily available in our student information system). If a parent pushed, citing that the student was a dependent for tax purposes, the situation was referred to the associate director. That person would address the situation directly with the parent and in consultation with other relevant personnel (including legal staff). The parent would not simply get easy access to student files; if necessary, school counselors would be engaged to assist with the issue.

When I worked with graduate students, we did not release any FERPA-related information to parents. We explained that graduate students were big people who were responsible for their own lives (not quite in those words, but that was the gist of it). No parent ever pushed back, so it never went to the mat for a decision regarding releasing information to them.

While a parent may be able to legally obtain information regarding their college-age tax dependent if they push hard enough, it may not be a wise idea to do so.

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I still hold by the standard that if I’m paying tuition and financially supporting my child I have the right to see their education records. If a student is somehow deemed “independent” as far as education records because the law states 18 is a magic number, that needs to include financial independence too ( including both undergrad and grad). Kids can be claimed as dependents until 24.

The law provides for it and I’d have no problem lawyering up if a school gave me a hard time once I showed evidence that I claim my child as a dependent for tax purposes.

I don’t believe the OP is supporting his student or paying tuition.

If support and tuition was paid during this most recent school year the student could still be claimed as a dependent. I’d submit the request.

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The law provides for it and I’d have no problem lawyering up if a school gave me a hard time once I showed evidence that I claim my child as a dependent for tax purposes.

My point was that you will likely win…a year after your kid graduates! They have more lawyers than you do…and they’ve done this before, it’s your first time at bat!

Good luck!

I agree but if everyone allows violations to go uncorrected the schools have no incentive to follow the law.

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Just to clarify: our financial support goes beyond covering all expenses of the freshman year. There was also a very substantial amount transferred to her bank account for miscellaneous expenses, and the sophomore year FA package was based on our tax return, and actually lowered the CoA by some 40%. We obviously could withdraw the FA application after her ‘going no contact’ but did not - so I think it does count as a continued financial support.

Schools violate laws all the time- ask anyone who was raped on campus if the school followed the legal procedure from start to finish. Ask anyone who worked in a lab if every mandated safety procedure was followed, every single time. Go into the food prep area of any college cafeteria (admittedly, those laws are typically local, but not federal) and see if every single food handling procedure is according to the local health regulations. Go behind the dorms and see how many fire doors are propped up by cinderblocks (another violation of most local fire safety codes).

So just ask yourself if this is the hill you want to die on…

You can be right and STILL not get the satisfaction you are looking for… particularly if the legal process you are prepared to engage in is expensive and protracted!

Pyrrhic victory?