Department of Education

Research funded through the Department of Education must comply with additional regulatory requirements under 34 CFR 98.3, 34 CFR 98.4, 34 CFR 99, 34 CFR 356.3

Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232h; 34 CFR Part 98) applies to programs that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). PPRA is intended to protect the rights of parents and students.

Research Funded by the Department of Education

No student shall be required, as part of any research project, to submit without prior consent (parental permission and assent) to surveys, psychiatric examination, testing, or treatment, or psychological examination, testing, or treatment, in which the primary purpose is to reveal information concerning one or more of the following:

  • Political affiliations
  • Mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student or his or her family
  • Sex behaviors and attitudes
  • Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating and demeaning behavior
  • Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom the student has close family relationships
  • Legally recognized privileged & analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians & ministers
  • Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent
  • Income, other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under a program

Unless consent is waived, prior consent means:

  • Prior consent of the student, if the student is an adult (age 18 or older) or emancipated through a court order
  • Prior written consent (permission) of the parent or legal guardian, if the student is an un-emancipated minor

Research Not Funded by the Department of Education

It is the responsibility of the IRB to verify, by acceptance of the school official’s letter of agreement or School IRB approval (when applicable), that compliance with US Department of Education regulations will be maintained. Specifically, schools are required to develop and adopt policies in conjunction with parents regarding the following:

  • The right of parents to inspect, upon request, a survey created by a third party before the survey is administered or distributed by a school to students
  • Arrangements to protect student privacy in the event of the administration of a survey to students including the right of parents to inspect, upon request, the survey, if the survey contains one or more of the same eight items of the information noted above.
  • The right of parents to inspect, upon request, any instructional material used as part of the educational curriculum for students
  • The administration of physical examinations or screenings that the school may administer to students
  • The collection, disclosure, or use of personal information collected from students for the purpose of marketing or for seeing that information (or otherwise providing that information to others for that purpose), including arrangements to protect student privacy that are provided by the agency in the event of such collection, disclosure, or use
  • The right of a parent of a student to inspect, upon request of the parent, any instrument used in the collection of personal information before the instrument is administered or distributed to a student
  • Any applicable procedures for granting a request by a parent for reasonable access to such instrument within a reasonable period of time after the request is received.

When accessing instructional material used in a research or experimentation program:

  • All instructional material – including teachers’ manuals, films, tapes, or other supplementary instructional material – which will be used in connection with any research or experimentation program or project must be available for inspection by the parents or guardians of the children engaged in such research
  • Research or experimentation program or project means any program or project in any research that is designed to explore or develop new or unproven teaching methods or techniques
  • Children are persons enrolled in research not above the elementary or secondary education level, who have not reached the age of majority as determined under state law.

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

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. Students to whom the rights have transferred are "eligible students.”

Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student's education records maintained by the school. Schools are not required to provide copies of records unless, for reasons such as great distance, it is impossible for parents or eligible students to review the records. Schools may charge a fee for copies.

Parents or eligible students have the right to request that a school correct records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student then has the right to a formal hearing. After the hearing, if the school still decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student has the right to place a statement with the record setting forth his or her view about the contested information.

Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release identifiable information from a student's education record.

Conditions for Which Student Records Can Be Disclosed without Consent for Research Purposes

For research purposes, FERPA allows schools to disclose students’ educational records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31),

  • The Researcher will receive a completely de-identified data set from the educational institution.
  • The organization is conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school to develop, validate, or administer predictive tests.

Schools may disclose, without consent, "directory" information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.

View full FERPA regulations 524

Requests for Waivers of Consent

It is important that researchers apply FERPA and human subject protection regulations when accessing educational records. Generally FERPA and IRB requirements are met if a student or parent signs a consent form to participate in a study and authorizes release of his/her educational records for research purposes.  In instances where a researcher requests to waive the informed consent process, the following conditions must be met:

Research on University of Pittsburgh Student Records

  • If records are being requested from the University of Pittsburgh, the IRB will forward any requests to access information without written consent to Pitt’s Office of University Counsel and the University Registrar. The University Registrar, with the advice of the Office of University Counsel, will make the final determination if the study meets the FERPA criteria to release educational information without a signed consent form.  The written approval from the University Registrar must be uploaded into the PittPRO application.

Research on Student Records at Institutions other than the University of Pittsburgh

Where researchers are conducting a study on behalf of the school district to improve instruction or to develop or validate a predictive test, the school district may provide FERPA protected records without consent under specific conditions and pursuant to a written agreement between the school district and the researcher.  If researchers are proposing to access student records at institutions other than Pitt, utilizing a waiver of consent then the researchers should contact that institution and follow that institution’s FERPA policy.    

Even if a school district makes the determination that it will provide records under a waiver of consent under FERPA, the IRB will also have to approve a waiver of consent under its policies.  Researchers will have to provide a copy of the waiver from the school district and the written agreement with the school district when requesting this waiver.  

  • Researchers should upload the waiver and the written agreement that meets the requirements of FERPA for permitting the release of the educational records from the school district into the Other Documents section of the PittPRO application.
  • The investigator should describe the procedures they will undertake to be compliant with the external institution’s FERPA policies within Item 2.6 of the PittPRO application.
  • In accordance with FERPA, an educational institution has the authority to determine what information may be accessed from an educational record. If an institution denies an investigator access to information in an educational record, the IRB cannot overrule the decision.
  • According to the IRB federal regulations, for non-exempt studies, an IRB cannot waive informed consent or documentation of informed consent unless specific conditions are met. Consequently, researchers should include rationale for waiver requests in the IRB application even in circumstances where FERPA allows access without prior consent.
  • FERPA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations provide conflicting requirements for medical records. In some situations FERPA is more restrictive than HIPAA for researchers. Researchers should contact each educational institution and follow that institution’s applicable policies, whether FERPA and/or HIPAA policy when accessing student medical records.

Those involved in the review and conduct of research involving students records and / or research
funded by the Department of Education should refer to the following:

Policy 09-08-01

34 CFR 98.3 and 34 CFR 98.4

34 CFR 99    

34 CFR 356.3