What Does It Mean to Be FERPA Compliant? Your Official Guide

Maintaining the integrity of a student’s personal information is essential to staying FERPA compliant. As with many other laws put in place to shield personal information, it’s done to make sure that an individual’s private details aren’t used against them.

In today’s time, gaining access to a person’s personal data could lead to fraud, identity theft, as well as extortion. These types of schemes are used to target individuals and large institutions. Thankfully there are laws and security systems available to help minimize these types of occurrences.

To learn more about FERPA and how to become FERPA compliant, take a look at the information below.

What is FERPA?

FERPA stands for The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act . It’s a federal privacy law that provides parents specific protections pertaining to their child’s education records. It includes report cards, disciplinary records, transcripts, contact and family information, as well as class schedules.

Parents have the right to review their child’s educational records and to request alterations under limited circumstances. To shield the child’s privacy, the law usually requires schools to request written consent prior to disclosing a child’s personally identifiable information to persons other than their parent or guardian.

What Is FERPA Compliant?

FERPA was created in 1974 as a group of mandates enforced to keep student records protected and private, while also providing students with access to their personal records. Educational entities that hold education records are required to give complete control of the records to the students.

FERPA compliance pertains to institutions, as well as vendors. That means if you sell textbooks, food, or other items within the purview of a school, you must meet the standard by FERPA.

How to Become FERPA Compliant

Complying with FERPA isn’t difficult. However, you must take extra care to ensure that you do. Here are a few tips to ensure that you stay compliant:

Students Rights

Educational institutions should inform students of their rights per FERPA laws every year. This includes any alterations to FERPA that impact the student’s rights.

Students are permitted to view their personal educational records and letters of recommendation. They are also allowed to waive their right to preview these documents as well.

Permission

Before a school official or any other school employee discloses a student’s PII, they are required to get the student’s signed, written consent. This also pertains to the student’s educational records. Without consent, the institution is in violation of FERPA’s rules.

Training

Institutions must provide routine training to their employees regarding the student’s rights detailed by FERPA. This training is required to be ongoing for all school employees. Doing so keeps them informed about compliance and keeps the educational institution in good standing with FERPA.

Utilizing Directory Information

An educational institution is required to tell students about any information that’ll be used in directory information. This notification must clearly state what protected information will be disclosed and provide students a decent amount of time to opt-out. The student can also advise the institution that they do not want their personal info used as directory information.

Inform Other Institutions

Institutions often facilitate employers, employment agencies, and recruiters. This poses a higher risk of exposure to PII and education information. It’s important to always notify these organizations that the documentation they are coming into contact with is subject to FERPA.

Explain that it’s protected information that must not be shared without student consent. Third parties with access to this information need to be informed as well.

Information Technology

FERPA compliance even includes how institutions format and manage their information technology operations. Here are some suggestions to help you determine if your institution’s technology department is FERPA compliant:

Encryption: Encryption helps shield your data on a physical level. Therefore, if the institution’s computer is physically stolen, the thief can’t access the students’ protected information.

Get Rid of Vulnerabilities: Information stored in the Cloud isn’t as shielded as it should be. Do a vulnerability scan on all Cloud-based databases to find potential vulnerabilities. If any weak areas are found, take care of them as soon as possible.

Use Compliance-Monitoring Operations: The possible exposure of protected student information is a constant issue. Hackers are able to breach networks at any time, from anywhere. Any breach is considered a FERPA violation.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to implement compliance-monitoring systems. Use a compliance-monitoring mechanism that can run quietly in the background, monitor employee behavior, and work easily with other analytics systems.

Information Security Plan Review and Update: FERPA frequently alters its policies to match changing circumstances. So, institutions should conduct routine assessments of their information security operations. Doing so makes it easier to adjust to new circumstances.

Data Breach Policy

It doesn’t matter how secure your information security is, no system is fully protected. Unfortunately, this means that at any given time, the information security system could be breached. Of course, if a breach occurs, that means your organization is no longer FERPA compliant.

To deal with this type of situation, it’s smart for organizations to create and enforce data breach policies and procedures. Doing so shows an auditor that even though you have a secure information security system, you also have a backup plan in place if a breach occurs.

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Keep Your Institution Safe and FERPA Compliant

As you can see, staying FERPA compliant is vital. Not only for the students but for your institutions. As long as you follow guidelines closely and stay up to date on new policies and procedures, your organization and students’ personal information should remain protected.

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