The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in August of 1974 to protect the privacy of students’ information. Programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education must comply with regulations derived from FERPA—the law gives parents the right to access their children’s educational records, seek to amend those records, and to have some controls over the disclosure of any personally identifiable information from those records. Educational records include documents such as grades, transcripts, and student disciplinary records.

Originally signed into law as the "Protection of the Rights and Privacy of Parents and Students," the law was commonly referred to as the “Buckley Amendment” after its primary sponsor, Senator James Buckley of New York. The bill was originally introduced as an amendment to the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), and therefore was not initially considered by the Senate in committee.

FERPA has not been amended since the U.S. Patriot Act of 2001, though the Department has continued to release new guidance on its application to new privacy challenges brought on by new technologies, such as protecting student privacy while using online educational services. While student data privacy has generated significant debate in Congress over the past several years, it does not appear that any of the proposed bills are moving forward in the short term.

Excerpted from: Laura Bornfreund and Maggie Severns, Many Missing Pieces: The Difficult Task of Linking Early Childhood Data and School-Based Data Systems [Washington, DC: New America,  2010].