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FERPA

FERPA Essentials

For Students

  1. What are my student rights under FERPA?
  2. When do my FERPA Rights begin?
  3. What are education records?
  4. Who is considered a "School Official" at SMU?
  5. Can my parents access my student education records?
  6. Can my spouse access my student records?
  7. How can I restrict the release of my directory information?
  8. If I restrict the release of my directory information, what happens when the faculty requires me to share my email address with other students for class work and class discussions?
  9. How do I request letters of recommendation from faculty members?
  10. I am a former SMU student. Do I have the same rights as current students to inspect my education records?
  11. As a former student of SMU, may I request that my education records not be disclosed?
  12. How do I authorize release of information to a specified third party?
  13. Whom do I contact with questions or concerns?
  14. Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

What are my student rights under FERPA?

SMU must annually notify students in attendance of their rights under FERPA, including:

  • Right to inspect and review your education records
  • Right to amend an incorrect record under certain circumstances
  • Right to consent to disclosure (with exceptions) of information from your education record
  • Right to file a complaint with US Department of Education

When do my FERPA Rights begin?

FERPA applies for a student when he or she enrolls in a higher education institution at any age. Your FERPA rights begin when you enroll for classes.

What are education records?

With certain exceptions, an education record is any record (1) from which a student can be personally identified and (2) maintained by the university. A student has the right of access to these records. Education records include any records in whatever medium (handwritten, print, magnetic tape, film, dis­kette, etc.) in the possession of any school official.

Who is considered a "School Official" at SMU?

  • A person employed by the University in an administrative, supervisory, academic or research, or support staff position (including law enforcement unit personnel, health staff and volunteers)
  • A person or company with whom the University has contracted as its agent to provide a service instead of using University employees or officials (including attorneys, auditors, bookstore)
  • A person serving on the Board of Trustees
  • 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.

Can my parents access my student education records?

When a student begins attend­ing a postsecondary institution regardless of age, FERPA rights transfer to the student. Hence, parents have no inherent rights to access or inspect their son or daughter's education records, unless the student is a dependent as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 or parents have obtained a consent from their child to release some or all of their education record information.

Can my spouse access my student records?

The spouse has no rights under FERPA to access the student’s education record.

How can I restrict the release of my directory information?

SMU may release directory information to anyone unless you send a written request through Access.SMU Self Service to the University Registrar’s office that it be withheld. All other information included in a student's education record will not be released to anyone without the student’s written consent. Detailed information on what is defined as directory information, how to restrict its release, and what happens after directory information is restricted is explained in the Directory Information page.

If I restrict the release of my directory information, what happens when the faculty requires me to share my email address with other students for class work and class discussions?

Restrictions on directory information do not apply to in-class communications. You (the student) have no inherent right to anonymity in the classroom whether it’s an online class or a physical classroom. If emails are a required part of your class work and class discussions and deemed necessary by the professor, then he/she may share your email address with your classmates.

How do I request letters of recommendation from faculty members?

If you are requesting a letter of recommendation that will include personally identifiable information obtained from your education records ( for example, GPA, grades, etc) then the faculty will request a signed release. The release will need to specify the records that may be disclosed, state the purpose of the disclosure , and identify the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure can be made. Follow the guidelines in this Sample Permission Letter while requesting letters of recommendation.

I am a former SMU student. Do I have the same rights as current students to inspect my education records?

Students who have ceased attendance or who have graduated from SMU have the same FERPA rights as currently enrolled students to inspect and review their records and may have a hearing to amend an education record.

As a former student of SMU, may I request that my education records not be disclosed?

Former students may request non-disclosure of their education records, but SMU does not have to honor the request.  However, SMU can choose to grant the right of non-disclosure to former students.

How do I authorize release of information to a specified third party?

Students can authorize the release of non-directory information to a specified third party by filling out and submitting the “Student’s Consent for SMU to Release Information to Student’s Specified Third Party” (PDF) to the University Registrar’s Office. Detailed information on release of information to third party is found in the Release of Education Records page.

Whom do I contact with questions or concerns?

General questions may be directed to the University Registrar or the Office of Legal Affairs.

Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

For Parents

  1. Do I have a right to access my child's records?
  2. Why is it that I had access to my child’s high school records, but now I do not have the same access to records maintained by the university?
  3. Can I see my student’s account and invoice?
  4. Can you send me a letter certifying that my child is enrolled as a full-time student at your institution?
  5. Can I request to receive grades and progress reports?
  6. Does SMU notify parents if a student is put on academic probation or is subject to academic dismissal?
  7. How can my student grant me access to his/her education records?
  8. If granted access, how do I navigate Access.SMU?
  9. What about crisis situations or emergencies?
  10. Whom do I contact with questions or concerns?
  11. Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

Do I have a right to access my child's records?

Unless granted access by the student, at the post-secondary level parents have no inherent right to access or inspect their son's or daughter's education records. The right of access is limited solely to the student. However, SMU understands that many undergraduate students want to allow their parents access to all or some of their education records and now students have the ability to provide their consent for access to their records by using the Release of Education Records feature in the self-service component of Access.SMU.

Why is it that I had access to my child’s high school records, but now I do not have the same access to records maintained by the university?

Under FERPA, the access rights that parents and legal guardians had in the elementary and secondary school settings are transferred to the student once a student starts attending any post-secondary educational institution (regardless of the student’s age and regardless of who is paying for the student’s education).

Can I see my student’s account and invoice?

Account and invoice are confidential information part of student’s education records which is protected under FERPA and cannot be released to third-party. Students have the ability to provide their consent for access to their records by using the Release of Education Records feature in the self-service component of Access.SMU. Student also can create other payer account for parents to pay the account. More information available at SMU Pay.

Can you send me a letter certifying that my child is enrolled as a full-time student at your institution?

Since current enrollment status is considered directory information the university can release enrollment verification to parents, unless the student has specifically requested to restrict the release of his/her directory information. More detailed information can be obtained at the Registrar's Enrollment Verification page.

Can I request to receive grades and progress reports?

Progress in a course, deficiencies in a subject area, final grades, grades on exams, and other information about academic progress are examples of the confidential information that makes up part of a student's education record. This information is protected under FERPA and parents do not have access to it unless the student has provided consent to the release of this information.

Does SMU notify parents if a student is put on academic probation or is subject to academic dismissal?

No. Information about grades and academic standing is sent directly to students. However, a letter of probation or dismissal to a student may direct the student to a FERPA release form and request that he or she complete it to allow the appropriate University representative to speak with a parent. Under some circumstances, a parent will be notified of a change in a student’s enrollment status, but in such event, no explanation will be provided.

How can my student grant me access to his/her education records?

Students have the ability to provide their consent for this access to their records by using the Release of Education Records feature in the self-service component of Access.SMU, SMU’s student information system. Please refer your student to the Student Instruction page for detailed instructions on how to grant third party access.

If granted access, how do I navigate Access.SMU?

Once release authorization is granted some records are available on-line through the parents own confidential access to Access.SMU. Other records are available by contacting the office holding the records. Please refer to the Parent Instruction page for detailed instruction on how to view your student's education record information.

What about crisis situations or emergencies?

If non-directory information is needed to resolve a crisis or emergency situation, SMU may release that information if it determines it necessary to protect the health and safety of a student. However, if personally identifiable information about a student is needed, then the inquiring party should be referred to the Dean of Student Life office, 302 Hughes-Trigg Student Center, 214-768-4563 or the University Registrar, 101 Blanton Student Services Building, 214-768-3417. Efforts will be made to get word to the student of the emergency.

Whom do I contact with questions or concerns?

General questions may be directed to the University Registrar or the Office of Legal Affairs.

Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

For Faculty


The DOs

The DO NOTs

DO refer requests to the Registrar's Office when you are uncertain how to respond.

DO release a student's information to him or her when you can positively identify with the student. Remember telephone and e-mails are not reliable methods to make positive IDs.

DO post grades on Access.SMU.

DO use Courses.SMU (Blackboard) to give individual students access to their grades and assignments.

DO check Access.SMU to verify student's consent prior to releasing information.

DO feel comfortable to contact the Registrar's Office for assistance including the one time parental release for dependent students.

DO shred unneeded confidential documents.

DO hide confidential information on computer screens from unauthorized individuals.

DO NOT display student scores or grades publicly in association with names, student ID numbers (even the last 4 digits of the SSN) or other personal identifiers.

NOTE - Randomly assigned numbers or code words that only the instructor and student know can be used to post grades and are not a violation of FERPA. However, the posting order should NOT be in alphabetical order.

DO NOT put exam papers containing student names and grades in publicly accessible places. Students should not have access to the scores and grades of the other students in the class.

DO NOT post grades on any individual Facebook page or group Facebook page.

DO NOT share student education record information with other campus officials unless there is "legitimate educational need" for that information.

DO NOT share by phone or e-mail information from student education records, with parents or others outside the institution, including letters of recommendation, without written permission of the student.

DO NOT circulate a class Roster and/or Grade Roster since it will have the students' names and student IDs.

DO NOT view education records for personal reasons.

"When in Doubt, Don't Give Out"



  1. Can I have access to all our students, and not just my assigned advisees or students in my classes?
  2. What defines a legitimate educational interest?
  3. What information collected and maintained by the University about a student am I as a faculty member permitted to see?
  4. If a student restricts the release of his/her directory information, what happens when faculty requires the student’s email address (part of directory information) for class work and class discussions?
  5. May I talk to another faculty member about a student’s educational record?
  6. Does FERPA allow a faculty member to speak to a parent or to another faculty or staff member when s/he thinks a student is in trouble?
  7. How can faculty members find out if a student has a history of violence or in some other way presents a danger to others?
  8. Is it permissible to post student grades on my office door by using only a portion of student’s social security number?
  9. Are there restrictions on returning assignments and examinations?
  10. What are "Sole Possession Notes" and do I have to release them to students if requested?
  11. Can I email final grades to students?
  12. May I include a student’s grade in a letter of recommendation that the student has asked me to write?
  13. A father has called me about his daughter’s performance in my class. What can I tell him?
  14. What if a parent tells me that he or she has already talked with the student and still has questions?
  15. What about a spouse?
  16. If a student asks for an explanation regarding his or her performance, can I compare the performance of the student asking for the explanation with the performance of other students?
  17. Are the Pre College Students (Concurrent Enrollment Students, Talented and Gifted Students, and College Experience Students) And the Academic Prelude Students’ education records protected under FERPA?
  18. How do I properly dispose of confidential information?
  19. What about crisis situations or emergencies?
  20. Whom do I contact with questions or concerns?
  21. Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

Can I have access to all our students, and not just my assigned advisees or students in my classes?

Yes. In all circumstances you will need to have a “legitimate educational need” to access records information. You are responsible to ensure a legitimate educational need exists.

What defines a legitimate educational interest?

A faculty or staff member has a legitimate educational interest in accessing or reviewing a student’s education records, if the faculty or staff member is:

  • Performing a task that is specified in his/her position description or contract.
  • Performing a task related to a student’s education or to student discipline.
  • Providing a service or benefit related to the student or student’s family.
  • Maintaining safety and security on campus.

What information collected and maintained by the University about a student am I as a faculty member permitted to see?

All faculty members have access to directory information ( What does SMU define as Directory Information? ). You may access other information in the educational record when you have a legitimate educational interest: that is when in the exercise or completion of your administrative, supervisory, academic, research or other administrative responsibilities on behalf of SMU, you incur the need to know specific information from those records. (See SMU Policy 1.18)

If a student restricts the release of his/her directory information, what happens when faculty requires the student’s email address (part of directory information) for class work and class discussions?

Restrictions on directory information do not apply to in-class communications. Students have no inherent right to anonymity in the classroom whether it’s an online class or a physical classroom. When students are in a classroom it’s a given that they know each other’s names, emails and general information. It is good practice to notify students upfront (through course description, syllabus, in-class communication, etc..) that emails will be shared and that online discussion and communication will be a part of the nature of the class. No other education records information of a student should be shared by faculty with other students.

May I talk to another faculty member about a student’s education record?

Students’ education records may be discussed among faculty and campus officials as long as all parties have a legitimate educational interest.  The information from the student’s record discussed should ideally be needed in order for the school official to perform tasks that are relevant to his or her role.

Does FERPA allow a faculty member to speak to a parent or to another faculty or staff member when s/he thinks a student is in trouble?

FERPA does not prohibit faculty members from discussing their personal observations with parents or with other faculty/staff if the situation warrants such communication. However, we recommend that the faculty member talk with the Dean of Student Life before contacting other parties, 214-768-4564.

To make the release of this information easy and confidential, the Division of Student Affairs has provided a web link “Caring Community Connections” which allows faculty and staff to submit information online (maybe done anonymously) identifying students of concern. The Dean of Student Life office will then utilize that information to connect these students with relevant resources and support options.

How can faculty members find out if a student has a history of violence or in some other way presents a danger to others?

If a faculty or staff member has a concern about a student, they should contact the SMU Police and/or the Dean of Student Life (214-768-4564).

Is it permissible to post student grades on my office door by using only a portion of student's social security number?

The public posting of grades either by the student's name, SMU ID Number or social security number (whole or part of it), without the student's written permission, is a violation of FERPA. Even with names obscured, numeric student identifiers are considered personally identifiable information and therefore violate FERPA.

Are there restrictions on returning assignments and examinations?

It’s a violation of FERPA for faculty to leave graded exams where students can see each other’s grades and work. Leaving personally identifiable, graded papers or examinations unattended for students to view is no different from posting grades in the hallway. Student’s right to privacy of education records should be honored at all times.

What are “Sole Possession Notes” and do I have to release them to students if requested?

Sole possession notes are made by one person as an individual observation or recollection of a student, and are kept in the possession of the maker. Sole possession notes are not subject to FERPA regulations. However, sharing the notes with another person, or placing them in an area where they can be viewed by others makes them “education records” and become subject to FERPA.

Can I e-mail final grades to students?

If the email is being sent to each student one at a time and doesn’t include the grades and information of other students, then this is not considered a violation of FERPA. Notification of grades via e-mail is permissible. However, there is no guarantee of confidentiality. It’s preferable to send grades through regular US mail with the information enclosed in an envelope to ensure privacy.

May I include a student’s grade in a letter of recommendation that the student has asked me to write?

Statements made by a faculty making a recommendation that are made from that faculty's personal observation or knowledge do not require a written release from the student. However, if personally identifiable information obtained from a student's education record is included in the letter of recommendation (for example grades in the recommender's course(s) ), then you are required to obtain a signed release from the student. The release will need to specify the records that may be disclosed, state the purpose of the disclosure, and identify the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure can be made. This student release should be requested from the student prior to writing a letter of recommendation.

* Faculty are not required to maintain the letters of recommendation, but it is suggested that they do retain the permission letter for 6 months. Faculty can encourage students to use this Sample Permission Letter which includes a waiver statement that the faculty may or may not use.

A father has called me about his daughter’s performance in my class. What can I tell him?

Progress in a course, deficiencies in a subject area, final grades, grades on exams, and other information about academic progress are examples of the confidential information that makes up part of a student's education record. This information is protected under FERPA and parents do not have access to it unless the student has provided consent to the release of this information. You can verify the parent's authorization to access the student's education record through Access.SMU. Refer to the Faculty / Staff Instructions for more detailed information.

What if a parent tells me that he or she has already talked with the student and still has questions?

You will still need the student's consent to release any information to the parents. Only after you have confirmed the student's consent through Access.SMU, you may discuss a student’s performance. Refer to the Faculty / Staff Instructions page for detailed instructions on how to check student releases though the Release of Education Records feature on Access.SMU.

What about a spouse?

The spouse has no rights under FERPA to access the student’s education record.

If a student asks for an explanation regarding his or her performance, can I compare the performance of the student asking for the explanation with the performance of other students?

No. Although a faculty member or teaching assistant can, of course, explain why a particular student performed well or poorly on a given examination or other assignment, in so doing the faculty member or teaching assistant should not discuss or make reference to the performance of other students. Disclosing information regarding another student jeopardizes that student’s privacy rights.

Are the Pre College Students (Concurrent Enrollment Students, Talented and Gifted Students, and College Experience Students) and the Academic Prelude Students’ education records protected under FERPA?

FERPA applies for a student when he/she enrolls in a higher education institution at any age. Parents do not have access to student’s education records unless they gain authorization to access and receive information from their child's education records. Parents of a student enrolled in these programs who wish to have access to their child's records are encouraged to work with their student to gain access to his/her education records through Access.SMU. More information is available at the Release of Education Records page.

How do I properly dispose of confidential information?

The business unit responsible for the personal information will arrange for the destruction of records containing student confidential information by shredding, erasing, or otherwise modifying the personal information to make the information unreadable or undecipherable through any means.

What about crisis situations or emergencies?

If non-directory information is needed to resolve a crisis or emergency situation, SMU may release that information if it determines it necessary to protect the health and safety of a student. However, if personally identifiable information about a student is needed, then the inquiring party should be referred to the Dean of Student Life office, 302 Hughes-Trigg Student Center, 214-768-4563 or the University Registrar,101 Blanton Student Services Building, 214-768-3417. Efforts will be made to get word to the student of the emergency.

Whom do I contact with questions or concerns?

General questions may be directed to the University Registrar or the Office of Legal Affairs.

Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

For Staff

  1. What student information can be released, and to whom?
  2. When can I release student information?
  3. What defines a legitimate educational interest?
  4. A faculty member requested access to a student's record who is not in his class or one of his advisees. Can I release the student's information?
  5. Do I have to keep a record of the release of information from a student's education record?
  6. How will I know if a student has requested that directory information not be disclosed?
  7. Is SMU obligated to release directory information?
  8. Does FERPA apply to students who are deceased?
  9. Can student workers have access to student records?
  10. Can Student Organization leaders have access to directory information that was restricted by the student?
  11. Must we release a transcript if a student has a financial hold?
  12. What do I tell an officer with a subpoena?
  13. Are the Pre College Students (Concurrent Enrollment Students, Talented and Gifted Students, and College Experience Students) and the Academic Prelude Students' education records protected under FERPA?
  14. What if a parent tells me that he or she has already talked with the student and still has questions?
  15. What about a spouse?
  16. How do I properly dispose of confidential information?
  17. What about crisis situations or emergencies?
  18. Whom do I contact with questions or concerns?
  19. Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

What student information can be released, and to whom?

SMU may release Directory Information to third parties unless the student sends a written request through Access.SMU Self Service to the University Registrar office that it be withheld. All other student information should not be released to anyone without the student’s written consent. Detailed information on what is defined as directory information, how to restrict its release, and what happens after directory information is restricted is explained in the Directory Information page.

When can I release student information?

You can check if the student authorized access to the requesting party through Access.SMU. Refer to the Faculty / Staff Instructions page for detailed instructions on how to check student releases though the Release of Education Records feature on Access.SMU.

What defines a legitimate educational interest?

A staff member has a legitimate educational interest in accessing or reviewing a student’s educational records, if the staff member is:

  • Performing a task that is specified in his/her position description or contract.
  • Performing a task related to a student’s education or to student discipline.
  • Providing a service or benefit related to the student or student’s family.
  • Maintaining safety and security on campus.

An example of a legitimate educational interest would be an academic advisor who needs to review a student’s education record to determine what courses have been and/or need to be completed. This is a task related to advising the student. The advisor would not be authorized to view education records that are not relevant to the task at hand.

A faculty member requested access to a student’s record who is not in his class or one of his advisees. Can I release the student’s information?

Ask the faculty member to identify a legitimate educational interest, and then give the professor that portion of the student's file that is relevant to the task being performed. Any other information needed would need the student’s consent for the release of his information.

Do I have to keep a record of the release of information from a student's education record?

SMU is required to maintain records of requestors for and disclosure of personally identifiable information unless:

  • Those requests were made by students for their own use.
  • Those disclosures were made with the written consent of a student.
  • Those disclosures were made to school officials with legitimate educational interests.
  • Those disclosures were made to a party seeking directory information.

How will I know if a student has requested that directory information not be disclosed?

In ACCESS.SMU, a student’s record will have the Deep Blue Shade icon which indicates that student has restricted the release of some or all of his/her Directory Information. Look for the Deep Blue Shade icon on the top right corner of the record. If the Deep Blue Shade icon is there, DO NOT release the directory information to a third party.

Is SMU obligated to release directory information?

Under FERPA, SMU is not obligated to release directory information to anyone. SMU may release information, but there is no obligation to do so.

Does FERPA apply to students who are deceased?

FERPA rights and, in general, the right to privacy end at death. It’s up to SMU to decide if the release of information of a deceased student is warranted.

Can student workers have access to student records?

FERPA allows student workers with “legitimate educational needs” to have access to other student’s educational records and confidential information. The same requirements and responsibilities for a full-time school official exist for student workers. It’s strongly advisable for student workers to be trained on FERPA just as if they were faculty or staff.

Can Student Organization leaders have access to directory information that was restricted by the student?

Student Leaders will gain access to the student’s directory information if he/she participates in that organization.

Must we release a transcript if a student has a financial hold?

One of the inherent rights that FERPA guarantees students is the right to inspect the contents of their student folder, regardless of their financial status with the institution. However, SMU may not release an official transcript if the student has a past due account.

What do I tell an officer with a subpoena?

FERPA doesn’t make it mandatory that SMU automatically comply with a lawfully issued subpoena. The following information should be considered when served with a subpoena:

  • Most legal issues concerning student education records should best be referred to the Office of Legal Affairs for further advice and guidance.
  • Determine if it is a subpoena. In many cases the document being presented looks like a subpoena but will not be a court issued one. Consult with the Office of Legal Affairs if you’re not sure you have received a real subpoena.
  • Determine if the court issuing the subpoena has jurisdiction.
  • Determine what is requested. Sometimes the definition of the information requested in the subpoena is too broad and implies the requester is fishing for more information than really needed. Try to identify the exact information needed to avoid violating the student’s right to privacy.

Are the Pre College Students (Concurrent Enrollment Students, Talented and Gifted Students, and College Experience Students) and the Academic Prelude Students’ education records protected under FERPA?

FERPA applies for a student when he/she enrolls in a higher education institution at any age. Parents do not have access to student’s education records unless they gain authorization to access and receive information from their child's education records. Parents of a student enrolled in these programs who wish to have access to their child's records are encouraged to work with their student to gain access to his/her education records through Access.SMU. More information is available at the Release of Education Records page.

What if a parent tells me that he or she has already talked with the student and still has questions?

You will still need the student's consent to release any information to the parents. Only after you have confirmed the student's consent through Access.SMU, you may discuss a student’s performance. Refer to the Faculty / Staff Instructions page for detailed instructions on how to check student releases though the Release of Education Records feature on Access.SMU.

What about a spouse?

The spouse has no rights under FERPA to access the student’s education record.

How do I properly dispose of confidential information?

The business unit responsible for the personal information will arrange for the destruction of records containing student confidential information by shredding, erasing, or otherwise modifying the personal information to make the information unreadable or undecipherable through any means.

What about crisis situations or emergencies?

If non-directory information is needed to resolve a crisis or emergency situation, SMU may release that information if it determines it necessary to protect the health and safety of a student. However, if personally identifiable information about a student is needed, then the inquiring party should be referred to the Dean of Student Life office, 302 Hughes-Trigg Student Center, 214-768-4563 or the University Registrar,101 Blanton Student Services Building, 214-768-3417. Efforts will be made to get word to the student of the emergency.

Whom do I contact with questions or concerns?

General questions may be directed to the University Registrar or the Office of Legal Affairs.

Where can I find out more information about FERPA?