FERPA stands for the “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” the federal law that governs the privacy of students’ academic records.
Faculty may be asked to reveal educational information by various parties: students’ parents, employers, graduate/professional schools to which a student has applied, etc. The common situation where a concerned parent telephones and wants to know a son/daughter’s grades, attendance, etc., requires a sensitive response – we want to work with families to help students, yet we also want (and are legally obliged) to protect students’ privacy. The following suggestions may help:
- Check the student’s privacy information first! Most of our students have given us permission to talk to their parents, but a few have not.
- Even if speaking to a parent is permitted, it is not required. A key question to think about is, “What is in the student’s best interest in this case?”
- Unless the situation is an emergency, it’s appropriate to tell parents that you will look into the situation and call them back. This is especially important when the privacy information says “Call Dean of Students” – this often signals that the family situation is complex, and we may have permission to talk to some family members but not others.
- Talk to the student – find out what s/he prefers in terms of information you give his/her parents. Sometimes, a direct conversation between parent and student is the best way to resolve a situation, and you may be able to facilitate this process.
Below is more detailed information about FERPA and its implications for faculty.
Types of Information
Directory Information is information that is not generally considered “private” (because it would typically appear in a directory). Allegheny defines Directory Information as: name, addresses, phone nos., email addresses, photos, birth date/place, major, enrollment status (whether person is a student), degree(s) awarded, dates attended, academic honors, record of participation in sports/official activities.
Directory information on a student can be released to anyone UNLESS the student has “Release NO information to ANYONE” as his/her privacy status. Few of our students fall into this category, but the ones who do have specifically asked us to withhold all information (sometimes because they wish to avoid any contact with a particular individual). By law, we cannot even admit that these students attend Allegheny – all we can say is “I have no information about anyone of that name.”
Education Records are protected by FERPA. The rights to them belong to the student. Education Records include any and all records pertaining to a student’s academic career at Allegheny. If you think it might be an Education Record, it probably is! Example of Education Records kept by faculty are work submitted in classes, grades, and advisee course schedules.
Education Records can be released only as described below:
- to students:
- students always have the right to review their own Education Records
- they may view other students’ work as part of peer review activities
- to Allegheny faculty and staff: College personnel must have a “legitimate educational interest” in viewing a student’s records
- to parents: we can discuss records with parents provided that the student’s privacy information (or a conversation with the Dean of Students Office) indicates that it’s OK to talk to the parent.
- to anyone else: release of Education Records to anyone not listed above (employers, graduate schools, media…) requires a written release from the student. (The typical graduate school recommendation form signed by the student is the most common release that faculty will encounter.) The release must:
- bear the student’s signature and the date
- specify the particular records to be released
- state the purpose of the disclosure
- identify the specific party to whom records are to be released
Health and Safety Exception: you can release any information to anyone if necessary to protect the health and safety of the student or others in an emergency.
There are other circumstances specified by law when information can be released without the student’s permission, but few of these will affect faculty. If a question does arise, or you have questions or concerns about a student privacy issue, please contact:
- the Registrar: Ian Binnington, firstname.lastname@example.org, 814-332-2357, or
- the Dean of Students: Kimberly Ferguson, email@example.com, 814-332-4356