Frequently Asked Questions

This section provides an overview on questions that commonly come up concerning confidentiality releases, U.S. Federal Laws on confidentiality, record retention and deletion, mandatory reporting, the use of surveillance cameras, answering subpoenas and much more. For ease, this section is set up in an easy-to-read question and answer format.

FERPA & VAWA Confidentiality

What is FERPA? How does it protect a student’s personal and private information?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99, gives students the right to access to their education records, to seek to have those records amended, and to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the education records. These FERPA rights are held by the parents of the student until the student turns18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution[7]. Under FERPA, educational institutions are prohibited from sharing information in a student’s record with any person or institution without the student’s written permission, or that of her parent or legal guardian if she is under the age of 18. 20 USC § 1232g(b); 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(d). Whenever a school receives a request for records, it must notify the student, who may then deny or grant access.

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[7]: U.S. Department of Education. "Frequently Asked Questions about FERPA." Last modified July 14, 2005.

How does FERPA compare to VAWA?

FERPA is, in many ways, less protective than VAWA. Although under FERPA a student's record cannot be shared without written permission of the student or parent or guardian, under FERPA, a subpoena is a specific exception to confidentiality. If there is a court‐issued subpoena in a civil action, FERPA enables the disclosure of records upon notification to the student. If a school receives a court‐issued subpoena in connection with a criminal prosecution, FERPA requires disclosure, even without notification to the student. 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b); 34 C.F.R. § 99.31 (2010).

Does FERPA apply to the preschool program we offer at our domestic violence agency?

Probably not. FERPA confidentiality requirements are tied to U.S. Department of Education funding, which would generally not apply to your preschool program. In any event, VAWA confidentiality practices regarding releases (informed, written, and reasonably time‐limited) provide best practice for releasing educational information from a preschool program as well.

If we are required to follow VAWA and we reveal information about a client in violation of VAWA, can we be sued and ultimately held liable?

Yes. The agency could be sued by the client or former client, and could be at risk of losing VAWA funds if it does not follow VAWA confidentiality protections. By comparison, HIPAA has a specific civil rights cause of action for a violation of its privacy regulations. On the other hand, FERPA does not allow any civil action for damages by the student whose privacy has been violated. However, if the violation has not yet occurred but is imminent, a victim may move for a civil injunction enjoining the school from sharing information.