January 21, 2008, v. 1.1, Office of the Registrar
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, better known as FERPA or the Buckley Amendment, was established to guarantee the rights of student to control access to their educational records. The Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) was established to define the steps that need to be taken for an institution to be FERPA compliant.
In 2005 the American Association of Collegiate Registrar’s and Officers of Admission (AACROA) surveyed several thousand faculty members across the United States. Despite a pretty low response rate, the results published in the College and University Journal volume 82 first quarter 2006 showed a large number of faculty did not understand their role in FERPA implementation. This document is Lehigh’s effort to ensure that faculty understands their rights and responsibilities under FERPA. My hope is that every faculty member here is already aware of this issue and learns nothing from this document.
FERPA provides 4 basic rights to a student:
The recent research concluded that the third item, “consent to disclosure of records,” is the provision of FERPA most violated by faculty and administrators. Faculty and administrators most commonly violate this right by sharing student information with third parties without the student’s authorization; posting of grades via social security number (considered identification, similar to a name); leaving graded student work in a public place, passing stacks of papers around a room for individuals to sort through (such that others are able to view confidential grades); using listservs to provide students with feedback, and discussing student grades or performance with colleagues possessing “no legitimate need to know”
To begin to understand FERPA we need to understand the applicable definitions and some basic information.
It is information contained in an education record of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. Directory Information may be disclosed without the permission of the student. Lehigh’s policy defines directory information to include a student's name; home and University address; mailbox number; home and University phone numbers; date and place of birth; name of parent or guardian; name of spouse; major field of college student; class; participation in sports and in officially recognized activities listed by the student; weight and height of members of athletic teams; dates of attendance; degrees and awards received; and the most recently attended educational institution.
They begin for a student when he or she becomes 18 or enrolls in a higher education institution at any age.
The University may release a student’s educational record without his or her consent, but is not required to do so. Some of the exceptions to the written release requirement include disclosing educational records:
At the post secondary level, parents have no inherent right to inspect their son’s or daughter’s education records. The right to inspect is limited solely to the student. If a faculty member receives a request from a parent for access to non directory and FERPA protected records, that request should be referred to the Associate Dean of Students for Academic Support at ext. 84159 or to the Registrar’s Office at ext. 83191.
FERPA does not preclude administrators, staff and faculty from sharing crucial information about troubled students. The current legal framework clearly authorizes collaboration among faculty/staff, mental health administrators and campus police officers. Faculty who fear that one of their students is in distress should contact the Dean of Students office or the Counseling Services Office. The FERPA exception for this situation indicates that protected student information may be disclosed, “if a health or safety emergency exists and the information will help in resolving the emergency”.
The University provides a method for permanently storing adviser and faculty comments and advising notes. That system complies with FPCO standards and does not require any faculty action to protect, retain, or provide FERPA access to a student. It is called the Adviser Notes and Comment System and is available through the University Portal and Self Service for Faculty. Instructions for use of the system are available on the Registrar’s web site, or contact the Registrar.
Although there still remains some “gray” areas in electronic records policies there are some fundamentals that will protect advisers and Lehigh.
In response to my question about whether email exchanges are part of a student’s education record, the Department of Education had the following comment:
“referring to email messages between faculty and/or other staff members that are identifiable to a student, then such a message is that student's education record. In that situation, the student has the same right to inspect and review the email message as any other of the student's education records.
If you're referring to a memory-jogger note that meets the criteria for a "sole possession record" under FERPA, then the student would not have FERPA rights to inspect and review those notes regardless of the format of the record. Please note that there are specific conditions necessary to qualify as a sole possession record, and in most cases, documents do not meet those requirements.”
Encourage the parent to ask the student for the information. If you keep attendance records contact the Registrar’s Office to determine if the student has provided written consent or enabled guest login privileges. If the access has not been granted, refer the parent to the Associate Dean of Students or to the Registrar’s Office. You may always just begin the process by automatically referring the parent to these offices right away.
You should not discuss the progress or performance of a student with anyone, including parents and other faculty, without the student’s written consent. Inquiries to faculty regarding previous student performance do not constitute a legitimate educational interest. In this case you should refer the colleague to consult with her department chair and then the University discipline process. Any concerns over an issue like this (cheating or general interest), is not “legitimate educational interest.”
Further clarification, if a colleague asks you about a student’s performance in your class and that colleague’s class was pre-requisite for your class, or the input would help you decide to let a student become involved in a research study or independent study, your colleague can discuss the performance. That would be defined as a “legitimate educational reason” for needing the information. Otherwise only their personal general observations may be shared. No specific attendance or grades could be shared.
You should not provide anyone with lists of students enrolled in your class(es) to individuals that do not have a legitimate educational interest. Refer any requests for information to the Office of Student Records and Registration.
Honors conferred is designated as directory information and may be released to a third party. Grade point average could not be released without the student’s written consent.
No. Accessing a Lehigh University student’s record on-line for non-educational purposes, such as potential employment, is not permissible. Request a transcript from the student as part of an employment process.