Answer: Under FERPA, all rights to inspect education records and consent for their disclosure pass to the student when the student turns 18. This means an 18-year old student controls access to her education records. There are several exceptions in FERPA that allow schools to share information without consent, including with parents. The most common exception related to this issue allows schools to share records with a parent if the student is a dependent of the parent for tax purposes under IRS tax rules. However, if the student specifically tells a school not to share records with a particular person, including a parent, it is likely that the school is risking liability if it violates the student’s specific instructions. Also, the school might not have adequate information to know whether the student actually is a dependent for tax purposes under IRS rules. Compare the school’s information about the family’s tax returns and internal financial practices to a student specifically telling the school not to release records, and it seems clear which rule the school should follow.
Since FERPA is a federal law, it supersedes conflicting state laws. Therefore, in this situation, under FERPA, the school should follow the wishes of the 18-year-old student. The McKinney-Vento Act does not change the interpretation of this issue, since the controlling law is FERPA. The McKinney-Vento Act would support FERPA in this situation, since McKinney-Vento requires schools to remove barriers to identification, enrollment, and retention in school. Following the student’s wishes, in this case, will help remove barriers to enrollment or retention, since if the school were to share information with the parent against the student’s wishes, the student might feel unsafe or unwelcome at school, and might consider leaving school.