Friday, October 8, 2010


FERPA is a silly acronym for a federal law that protects information about my college student son from being released to me - his MOTHER - without his permission.  It stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

According to the US Department of Education website, "FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level."  This act has been frustrating parents since 1974!

(Before going any further, try saying "FERPA" five times fast and see if it conjures up images of academia, like professors in tweed jackets with suede elbow pads or the crew team working through drills on the lake at 5 a.m.  No?  I thought not.)

FERPA means that the university that Thing 1 attends will not release any information about his grades or his financial standing unless he signs a release authorizing them to do so.  Let me repeat that -- financial standing.  Financial standing meaning the status of the account which DH and I finance every single month by writing a substantial check (a substantial check that represents, for example, years of foregone leather pants, island vacations, branded (vs. generic) boxes of cereal.  Just sayin').

Thing 1 DID sign the FERPA release, because I threatened him with cutting off his beer money, taking away the car keys - actually, because I didn't tell him he had a choice (I don't know how long after his class in Constitutional Law I'll be able to get away with that). 

We hadn't had a chance to test the gravitas of FERPA until today, when I called the Accounting Office to inquire about a thin rectangular envelope I received yesterday.  It was the kind of envelope that's both a letter AND an envelope:  to open it, you have to fold back the top and sides along the perforations and then rip them off (I usually just end up ripping through the entire thing).  It had the look of the mid-term reports I used to receive from the high school (which were never good news).  I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was involved in some kind of freshman hijinks.!  There was a check for $604 inside!  Without any explanation.

So I called Accounting to ask why they were sending us such a bounty.  I gave them his ID number and blurted out, even before being asked,  "And he invoked FERPA!" (Actually, I don't know whether one "invokes" FERPA, "waives" FERPA or tosses FERPA around like a football), fully expecting silence on the other end, followed by a whispered "I can't discuss this with you.  It's FERPA-proof."

Turns out, Thing 1's "FERPA status" was fully visible on whatever computer screen the clerk was reviewing and she readily shared the information that we had overpaid his term bill, thus prompting the refund.

That was great news, but I still don't understand why, if we - his parents - are paying his way and a refund is due, the refund check was made payable to Thing 1.  That seems like an ferpatastically good deal for our Dear Thing 1.


  1. What happened to the golden Rule...The One with the gold makes the rule(s)??....

  2. The check was made out to HIM???

  3. FERPA shmerpa. Whenever we had to communicate by phone with the feds about our Thing 2's financial aid David would just pretend to be him. He spent days perfecting his signature. In our family, we have a rich history of forgery. My father used to pretend to be not only my brother, but my sisters and myself as well! Now that's acting!

  4. Well, there IS a strong resemblance among all of you Andrea...

  5. I know that certain professors at a certain southern New England university think FERPA is a godsend when it comes to dealing with "helicopter" parents!

    Can't number-one-son sign a student request to share information & FERPA waiver, that would give you permission to access his information?

    What I want to know is how come every time I visit a doctor, they make you sign some privacy form. Why don't they just save the signed privacy form from the last visit?!