Department of Education
Family Policy Compliance Office
Filing a Complaint Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
Who may file a complaint?
A parent of a student under the age of 18 at an elementary or secondary school or a student who is at least 18 years of age or attending a postsecondary institution at any age (“eligible student”) may file a written complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) regarding an alleged violation of a school’s failure to comply with his or her rights under FERPA. A parent of an eligible student generally may not file a complaint under FERPA, as the rights afforded to parents are transferred to the student when he or she becomes an eligible student.
What do we suggest you do before filing a FERPA complaint?
- Please review the FERPA General Guidance for Parents or Eligible Students, FAQs and other resources on the FERPA for Parents and Eligible Students page to determine whether FERPA protections apply to your situation.
- If after carefully reviewing the FAQs and guidance, you believe you do have a timely allegation of a school’s failure to comply with your rights under FERPA, you must complete a complaint form. A timely complaint is defined as an allegation of violation of FERPA that is submitted to FPCO within 180 days of the date of the alleged violation or of the date that the parent or eligible student knew or reasonably should have known of the alleged violation.
- Please take the time to outline the relevant facts clearly and succinctly before you complete your complaint form.
- You may wish to contact your local educational agency or institution to seek to resolve your concerns before filing a complaint.
What are the requirements for filing a complaint?
Your FERPA complaint must—
- be in writing and must contain specific allegations of fact giving reasonable cause to believe that a FERPA violation has occurred;
- be filed by the parent of a student at an elementary or secondary school under the age of 18 or an eligible student; and
- Filed within 180 days of the alleged violation or within 180 days after the complainant knew or should have known about the violation.
If your complaint does not meet these requirements, we will notify you that your allegation(s) will not be investigated. Please note that FERPA does not provide the basis for a private suit for enforcement of its provisions against an educational agency or institution.
How and where do I file a complaint?
The complaint form may also be downloaded and either submitted to FPCO by e-mailing it to FERPA.Complaints@ed.gov or by
printing out the form, signing and mailing it to the following address:
U.S. Department of Education
Family Policy Compliance Office
400 Maryland Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20202-8520
What is our procedure for investigating FERPA complaints?
- If we initiate an investigation, we notify both you and the educational agency or institution. The notice includes the substance of your allegations and requests a written response from the educational agency or institution addressing the allegations.
- After completion of an investigation, both parties are notified in writing of our findings and the basis of those findings.
- The FERPA complaint resolution process is designed to identify problems with FERPA implementation in educational agencies and institutions, to ensure compliance with FERPA requirements, and act to prevent future violations of FERPA. If a violation is substantiated, we may require specific corrective action (e.g., revise policy or procedures, or conduct training) to bring the educational agency or institution into compliance with FERPA requirements. When the educational agency or institution has completed the required corrective action, FPCO closes the complaint.
Notice about Investigatory Uses of Personal Information
To resolve your complaint, FPCO may need to collect and analyze personal information such as your child’s or your education records, or in some instances the education records of other students supplied to us by the school that are pertinent to the investigation and resolution of the complaint. Please note that no law requires you to provide FPCO with your personal information. Furthermore, complainants, persons such as family members, witnesses, or others are not required by FEPRA to provide information during the complaint resolution process. However, if FPCO does not receive the information needed to resolve your complaint, it may be necessary to close the complaint and issue a finding based on incomplete information.
The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552, governs the protection of personally identifying information contained in records in “systems of records” maintained by Federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education. The Privacy Act protects individuals from the misuse of personal information held by the Federal government. It applies to records that are kept and can be located by the individual’s name, social security number, or other personal identifier. It regulates the collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of certain personal information in the files of Federal agencies.
FPCO may disclose information without your consent under one of the 11 instances defined in the Department’s Privacy Act regulation at 34 C.F.R. § 5b.9(b). The cited regulation can be accessed online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_98/34cfr5b_98.html. For instance, FPCO may disclose information without your consent to other employees in the Department of Education with a “need to know” to perform their job duties. The Department also has published a system of records notice that covers FERPA complaints that permits FPCO to make any of nine published “routine use” disclosures without your consent which can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/notices/pai/pai-18-05-02.pdf.
One such routine use disclosure permits FPCO to disclose information without your consent to educational agencies and institutions against which your complaint was filed in order to resolve your complaint. In other words, FPCO may need to reveal certain information to officials at your school, to verify facts or gather additional information related to your complaint. A second published routine use disclosure permits FPCO to disclose your information, without your consent, to a Member of Congress who inquired into your complaint at your request.