The U.S. Department of Education has released regulations for the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act that are set to take effect Jan. 8. The new rules seek to reassure school officials who wish to share private student information because they believe it is necessary to prevent a health or safety emergency.
The revisions stem from problems with FERPA uncovered in the course of federal and state investigations into the massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in April 2007, in which a student at the university, Seung Hui Cho, killed 33 people, including himself.
Faculty members at the school had been concerned about Mr. Cho’s behavior, but were worried that they were prevented by FERPA from speaking to his parents and others. The new regulations clarify that the Education Department will not substitute its judgment for that of the school in determining what constitutes an emergency, as long as school officials have a rational basis for believing a student may put himself, herself, or others in danger.
The regulations also make it clear for the first time that FERPA covers the educational records of students who attend classes through videoconferencing, via satellite broadcast, or over the Internet. And they clarify that schools may share student data with outside contractors who perform work that school employees would otherwise do, such as electronic recordkeeping and testing.
A version of this article appeared in the January 07, 2009 edition of Education Week