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Privacy of Student Education Records and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Smith College values the privacy of its students and seeks to preserve the confidentiality of their education records. The college complies fully with the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), as amended, a federal law that  permits students to review their education records and creates certain obligations of the college with respect to protected education records.

The following overview of the college’s FERPA policy provides additional information concerning:  

  • definition of student education records
  • FERPA rights for students (annual notice)
  • restricting release of directory information
  • release of information to parents

Definition of Student Education Records

With certain exceptions, an education record is any record directly related to a student and maintained by the college or any party acting on behalf of the college.

Education records are not:

  • sole possession records (e.g., private notes) held by employees (including, but not limited to, college administrators or faculty) that are used as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible, revealed, or transferred to any other person except a temporary substitute for the person who made the record;
  • public safety records that are created and maintained by the campus safety for law enforcement purposes;
  • employment records relating to students who are employed by the college, unless the student is employed as a result of the student’s status as a student (e.g., work-study employment);
  • health records created and maintained in connection with treatment by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other professional or paraprofessional acting in his or her professional capacity or assisting in a paraprofessional capacity and disclosed only to individuals providing treatment
  • records created or received after an individual is no longer a student in attendance and that are not directly related to the individual’s attendance at the college (e.g., alumnae records)

FERPA Rights for Students (Annual Notice)

Smith College publishes an annual notice to provide a summary of rights afforded to students under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (“FERPA”). Additional information on student rights under FERPA, including information regarding procedures for accessing records, is available in the Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines section of the Smith College Student Handbook. Copies of the college's FERPA policy can also be obtained from the Office of the Registrar in College Hall.

FERPA affords students certain rights with respect to their education records. These rights are:

1.   The right to inspect and review the student's education records within 45 days of the day the institution receives the request for access.

Students should submit to the appropriate college official (e.g., registrar, director of career development, director of health services) written requests which identify the record(s) they wish to inspect. The college official will notify the student of the time and place where the records may be inspected. If the records are not maintained by the official to whom the request was submitted, that official will advise the student of the correct official to whom the request should be addressed, if applicable.

2.  The right to request amendment to an education record that the student believes is inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the student’s privacy rights under FERPA.

Students may ask the college to amend a record that they believe is inaccurate or misleading. They should notify the college official responsible for the record in writing, clearly identify the part of the record they want changed, and specify why it is inaccurate or misleading. If the college decides not to amend the record as requested by the student, the college will notify the student of the decision, and advise the student of the right to a hearing regarding the request for amendment, and provide the student with the procedures for the hearing.

IMPORTANT:  The right to amendment may not be used to contest substantive matters accurately reflected in the education record. Thus, it may not be used to contest the appropriateness of a grade in a record, but may be used to assert that the grade actually assigned was inaccurately recorded. Students with concerns about the appropriateness of a course grade should refer to the Student Academic Grievance Policy in the Smith College Student Handbook.

3.  The right to provide written consent to disclosure of personally identifiable information (PII) contained in the student's education records, except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without consent.

The most common exceptions to FERPA’s consent requirement appear below. The college reserves the right to make disclosures of information from education records without a student’s consent in these and other circumstances in which such disclosures are permitted by FERPA.

College officials:  FERPA permits disclosure without consent to school officials with legitimate educational interests in the education records. The college defines a “school official” as any person employed by the college in an administrative, supervisory, academic or research, teaching, or support staff position (including law enforcement unit personnel and health staff); a contractor, consultant, volunteer or other party to whom the college has outsourced institutional services or functions for which the college would otherwise use its own employees to perform (for example, legal advice, debt collection, transcript distribution, enrollment verification, citizenship verification, fundraising and alumni communications, development, and information technology services such as web-based and email services); a person serving on the Board of Trustees; or a student serving on an official committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance committee, or assisting another school official in performing his or her tasks. A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the school official needs to review or have access to an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibility.

Directory information: Per FERPA regulations, directory information is information contained in a student’s education record that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. Directory information may be disclosed without a student’s prior written consent. Smith College has designated the following items as directory information:

  • Name
  • Home address and telephone number (while enrolled)
  • College address and telephone number
  • Smith email address
  • Date of birth
  • Dates of attendance (current and past)
  • Enrollment status (full-time or part-time)
  • Academic/class level
  • Fields of study (major[s], minor, concentration, certificate)
  • Degrees, honors, and awards received, including date(s) received
  • Participation in college extra-curricular activities (if known)
  • Height and weight of members of college athletic teams
  • Previously attended educational institution(s)
  • Student identification number that is (1) used by a student for purposes of accessing or communicating in electronic systems or (2) displayed on a student ID card or elsewhere, but only if it cannot be used, standing alone, by an unauthorized individual to gain access to protected education records except when used in conjunction with one or more factors that authenticate the user’s identity known or possessed only by authorized user(s). 
  • Photographs and digital images

Students have the right to restrict the disclosure of their directory information. Students should refer to Restricting Release of Directory Information (below) for additional information regarding the process for submitting a request for nondisclosure. 

Enrollment at another institution:  The college is permitted to disclose a student’s education records without consent to officials of another university, college or school in which a student seeks or intends to enroll, or is already enrolled, for purposes of the student’s enrollment or transfer.

Response to a health or safety emergency: FERPA permits the college to disclose personally identifiable information from an education record to appropriate parties, such as parents, in connection with a health or safety emergency.

Response to a subpoena or court order: The college will disclose student records to comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena. The college will make a reasonable effort to notify the student in advance of compliance so that the student may seek protective action, unless an order by a court or issuing agency prohibits such disclosure.

For additional legal exceptions permitting the disclosure of non-directory/personally identifiable information without obtaining written consent, please refer to the Family Policy Compliance Office website

4.  The right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by Smith College to comply with FERPA. The name and address of the office that administers FERPA are:

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC  20202-8520
Phone: 800-872-5327

For additional information please see Smith's policy on access to and privacy of records in the Student Handbook.

Restricting Release of Directory Information

Under the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), as amended, students have the right to refuse to let the College disclose any or all of the types of information the college as directory information without consent, unless permitted by an applicable FERPA exception. Requests for nondisclosure of directory information must be submitted in writing to the Office of the Registrar within five days of the start of a semester using the form below. Students should note that requests for nondisclosure of directory information must be submitted within five days of the start of the fall semester in order to withhold consent for disclosure of directory information in materials printed by the college. A new request form must be completed each academic year the student is enrolled.

Students should consider very carefully the possible consequences of a decision to restrict the college’s release of directory information. Restricting the release of directory information may result in denied or delayed enrollment and degree verification to persons, agencies, and institutions requesting this information for employment, insurance discounts, school transfer, or related purposes; as well as student exclusion from college publications, such as the commencement program. The college assumes no liability for honoring a student’s restriction on disclosure of directory information and is not responsible for contacting students regarding a denial of a request by a third party for access to directory information. Under FERPA, the student is responsible for providing advance written consent for disclosure of information in the protected education record, absent an applicable FERPA exception.

Release of Information to Parents

Information from the education record of an eligible student will not be released to parents, except as permitted by FERPA. In accordance with FERPA, the college may, at its discretion, disclose education records to the parents or legal guardians of a student who is claimed as a dependent for IRS tax purposes and proof of dependency has been provided to the college.

It is the policy of the college to notify both a dependent student and their parents in writing of probationary status, dismissal and certain academic warnings. In communications with parents concerning other matters, it is college policy not to disclose information from student education records to parents or guardians without the prior consent of the student, unless permitted under an applicable FERPA exception. A student may provide a signed written consent authorizing the disclosure of such information to parents and guardians.

Students wishing to authorize the release of information to their parents or guardians should complete the form below and submit it to the Office of the Registrar.