Answer: The language your registrar is referencing is the following:
“6. If I am a parent of a college student, do I have the right to see my child’s education records, especially if I pay the bill?
As noted above, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student, once the student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age. However, although the rights under FERPA have now transferred to the student, a school may disclose information from an “eligible student’s” education records to the parents of the student, without the student’s consent, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student nor the parent’s status as a custodial parent is relevant. If a student is claimed as a dependent by either parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision. (34 CFR §99.31(a)(8).)”
We bolded the phrase “may disclose” in that statement. It is an option, not a requirement, for schools to share information with a parent who claims his/her child as a dependent. The word “may” also appears in the actual regulation:
“(a) An educational agency or institution may disclose personally identifiable information from an education record of a student without the consent required by §99.30 if the disclosure meets one or more of the following conditions: …
(8) The disclosure is to parents, as defined in §99.3, of a dependent student, as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.” 34 CFR §99.31(a)(8).
The “may” here is extremely important, because it conflicts with a “shall” in the McKinney-Vento Act. For unaccompanied homeless youth, the school district must comply with the McKinney-Vento Act. The McKinney-Vento Act states that local educational agencies “shall review and revise policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths…” 42 USC §11432(g)(1)(I). This is a requirement, not an option.
In the situation you described, the student fears for his safety. It is very reasonable to expect the student will flee his temporary housing, and also flee the school, if the school releases address information to the parent. Even without the safety concern, a school choosing to release education records to the parent of an unaccompanied homeless youth who is 18 or older, and who has stated he does not want the parent to have that information, certainly creates a barrier to the student’s enrollment and retention in school.
Given the McKinney-Vento Act’s requirement to remove barriers to enrollment and retention, the school must follow the McKinney-Vento Act. FERPA’s allowance that schools may release information to parents who claim their children as dependents does not conflict with the McKinney-Vento Act’s requirement. In the situation you described, the school must opt not to share information with the parent of an 18-year old unaccompanied homeless youth who has stated that he does not want the parent to receive information.