Legal Hotline: FERPA honor roll

  • Mar 31, 2016

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  A school has begun withholding honor roll and student of the month information from the newspaper.  When contacted, the school said FERPA doesn’t allow them to release this information.  Is that correct? 

A:  No.  FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is the federal law that prohibits release of student-specific academic and discipline records without permission from parents.  However, FERPA allows schools to release “directory information” about students without permission from parents. Directory information is information that is generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released.  Some examples included in FERPA regulations are:

  • Student's name, address, date and place of birth*
  • Telephone listing
  • Electronic mail address
  • Photograph
  • Major field of study
  • Dates of attendance
  • Grade level
  • Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • Weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • Degrees, honors, and awards received
  • The most recent educational agency or institution attended
  • A playbill, showing a student’s role in a drama production;
  • The annual yearbook;
  • Honor roll or other recognition lists;
  • Graduation programs.

*Note: Section 708(b)(30) of the Right to Know Law allows, but does not require, agencies to redact minors’ (age 17 and under) name, address and date of birth from public records.

FERPA regulations allow schools to disclose "directory information" to third parties without consent if the school has given public notice of: 

  1. the types of information which it has designated as "directory information,"
  2. the right to restrict the disclosure of such information, and
  3. the period of time within which a parent has to notify the school in writing that he or she does not want any or all of those types of information designated as "directory information." 

The means of notification could include publication in a local newspaper, a school newsletter, or in the student handbook. Schools could also include the "directory information" notification as part of the general notification of rights under FERPA, which typically takes place at the beginning of each school year. FERPA does not require schools to notify parents or eligible students individually or obtain permission from parents each time directory information is released. 

If parents opt out, the school can't share directory information about that specific student.  If parents do not opt out, the school can provide directory information.  

Journalists should determine a school’s “directory information” policy, and refer schools with issues to resources on the topic such as this FERPA guide from the Department of Education.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please consult your organization’s attorney or the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.

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