Office of the General Counsel

Student Records-Part II
The Student's Right of Confidentiality


In Part I we discussed the student's right of access to his or her education records. In this Part we will discuss the other right created by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) - the student's right of confidentiality.

What does FERPA say about confidentiality of education records?

FERPA states that "No funds shall be made available...to any educational agency or institution which has a policy or practice of permitting the release of education records (or personally identifiable information contained therein other than directory information...) of students without written consent [from the student]." This means that UNCG can lose all of its federal funding, including the authority to award federal financial aid to students, if confidentiality is not maintained. The student may also bring a lawsuit against the University and/or the individual responsible for improperly releasing confidential information.

Are there rules specifying how the student's consent must be given?

The consent must:

  1. be given in writing, and signed by the student,
  2. specify the records that may be disclosed,
  3. state the purpose of the disclosure, and,
  4. identify the person or persons to whom the disclosure may be made.

Are there exceptions to the consent requirement?

There are several exceptions to the consent requirement listed in the statute, regulations, and in the UNCG Policy. Disclosure may be made without the student's consent:

  1. to University officials who have a legitimate educational interest in the records.
  2. to officials of another school; upon request, in which a student seeks or intends to enroll;
  3. to certain officials of the United States Department of Education, the Comptroller General, and state and local educational authorities, in connection with certain state or federally supported education programs;
  4. in connection with a student's request for or receipt of financial aid as necessary to determine the eligibility, amount, or conditions of the financial aid, or to enforce the terms and conditions of the aid.
  5. if required by a state law requiring disclosure that was adopted before November 19, 1974;
  6. to organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the University;
  7. to accrediting organizations to carry out their functions;
  8. to parents of a student who claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (i.e. a "qualified parent");
  9. to comply with a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena;
  10. to appropriate parties in a health or safety emergency;
  11. directory information so designated by the University;
  12. the results of any disciplinary proceeding conducted by the University against an alleged perpetrator of a crime of violence to the alleged victim of that crime.

The application of these exceptions can be tricky at times. When in doubt, please contact the University Counsel prior to making any non-consensual disclosure.

Who falls within the definition of "University officials?"

A "University official" is defined as follows:

  1. A person employed by the University in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research, or support staff position;
  2. A member of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Board of Trustees in connection with student appeals;
  3. A person employed by or under contract to the University to perform a special administrative or professional task, such as an attorney or auditor.

What qualifies as a "legitimate educational interest?"

A University official has a "legitimate educational interest" in a student's record(s) if the University official is:

  1. Performing a task that is specified in the official's position description or by a contract agreement, and;
  2. Performing a task related to a student's education, or;
  3. Performing a task related to the processing of a disciplinary charge involving the student or;
  4. Providing a service or benefit relating to the student or the student's family (e.g., health care, counseling, job placement, financial aid).

What is "directory information"?

"Directory information" is defined as the student's name, address (including e-mail address), telephone number, date and place of birth, major, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and honors information, and the most recent previous educational agency or institution attended.

May a student request that directory information be withheld and, if so, how?

Each student has the right to request that the disclosure of directory information be withheld as long as the student is enrolled at the University. If a student wishes to have directory information withheld and omitted from the University Directory, the student must submit a written request to the Registrar's Office.

Must (permissible) non-consensual disclosures be documented?

With two exceptions, a record of disclosure must be made and it must indicate the name of the party making the request, any additional parties to whom the education record may be redisclosed, and the legitimate interest the party had in requesting the information. That record may be reviewed by the student or by a "qualified parent." The two exceptions are:

  1. responses to secret grand jury subpoenas, and
  2. disclosures to qualified University officials.

Must the student be given prior notice of non-consensual disclosures?

Prior notice (or a reasonable attempt to give prior notice) must be given in two cases:

  1. disclosures to other educational institutions, and
  2. disclosures to comply with a subpoena (other than a grand jury subpoena)

Where can I find a copy of the UNCG Policy?

The UNCG Policy is included in the Policies for Students handbook published at the beginning of each academic year.

I have other questions that you haven't answered.

Please contact the University Counsel's office at 334-3067 or University_Counsel@uncg.edu.

No copyright in this article is asserted by the author and it may be freely reproduced without permission.