What is the Difference Between FERPA and PPRA? Protecting Student Privacy and Confidential Education Records

Two important federal laws protect the privacy rights of all students: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, 20 U.S.C. 1232g, “FERPA” and Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, 20 U.S.C. §1232h, “PPRA.”  Both of these laws create obligations that should be incorporated into a school district’s operational policies.

FERPA makes student educational records and personally identifiable information confidential. It ensures parental access to records and a mechanism to challenge the accuracy of such records. It establishes very specific guidelines and exceptions with regard to access, disclosure and amendment of information in student records. It also enables school districts to identify categories of “directory information,” (such as name, telephone, address, etc.) that may be disclosed without prior written consent unless a parent or guardian opts out of such disclosure.

PPRA gives parents the opportunity to limit the kind of personal information that school district may elicit or otherwise collect from students as part of a survey, analysis, evaluation or certain types of physical examinations. It also establishes parental access to information about these surveys or instructional materials that concern student information of a protected nature.

A very simplified explanation of the difference between these laws is that FERPA protects information that the school district already has about a student and the PPRA protects information that the district does not have, but might otherwise obtain from students that is private in nature.  Both laws require school districts to provide parents with annual notification of these rights, but the content of the annual notification differs greatly between FERPA and PPRA.  In addition, the definition of the term “personal information” differs. As a result, school districts should keep these two privacy-related policies separated for clarity of purpose and greater ease of administration of the district’s responsibilities.

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Alerts, commentary, and insights from the attorneys of Pullman & Comley’s School Law practice on federal and Connecticut law as it pertains to educational institutions, whether those institutions be public school districts, private K-12 schools, or post-secondary colleges and universities.

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