FERPA for Faculty & Staff
Saint Peter’s University is committed to the protection and confidentiality of student education records, adhering closely to the guidelines established by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of education records, to establish the right of students to inspect and review their education records, and to provide guidelines for how this information can be released.
What Are Education Records?
Records that are directly related to a student that include any information in any medium including, but not limited to, handwriting, print, audio and video tapes, film, e-mail, microfilm, and microfiche. Records that are maintained by an institution or by a party acting for the institution.
Examples of an Education Record are:
- Social security number or any part thereof.
- Admissions information for students who are accepted and enrolled.
- Biographical information including date and place of birth, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, and identification photographs.
- Grades, test scores, evaluations, courses taken, GPA, academic specialization and activities, and official communications regarding a student’s academic status.
- Coursework including papers and exams, class schedules, as well as written e-mail or recorded communications that are part of the academic process.
- Disciplinary records.
- Student financial and financial aid records.
- Internship or study abroad program records.
Education Records are not:
- Sole possession records such as memory aids, reference tools, and personal notes about a student that are not shared with others or made accessible to others including, but not limited to, the student and other university officials.
- Medical treatment records.
- Employment records, unless the students’ employment is predicated upon their status as student (i.e., Federal work-study student).
- Alumni records that do not relate to or contain information about the person as a student.
Saint Peter’s University defines directory information as:
- Student Name and Spirit Number
- Address, Telephone and Email address
- Date and place of birth
- Program major(s)/concentration(s), and minor(s)
- Student activities including athletics
- Dates of attendance
- Date of graduation, degrees sought/conferred, and other academic awards
- Most recent previous school attended and/or High School
- Academic awards and scholarships, including Dean’s List
- Enrollment Status (full or part-time)
Without the proper access, you may not know if a student has placed a privacy restriction on his or her record, which would prevent the release of directory information. Therefore, when in doubt do not release any information about a student to a third party. Instead, contact the Registrar’s Office for assistance.
Obtaining consent from students
Once a student begins attending an institution of post-secondary education, all privacy rights move to that student. The general principle is that student education records are considered confidential and may not be released to third parties (including parents) without the written consent of the student.
Such things as progress in a course, deficiencies in a subject area, scores and grades on papers, exams, etc., are all examples of information that make up part of the student’s education record. This information is protected under FERPA and requires student consent for release. Faculty wishing to speak with a parent about a student’s academic performance should check with the University Registrar to confirm that the student’s consent to release academic information is on file.
The public posting of grades by a student’s name or personally identifiable information (e.g., student ID number or SSN) without the student’s written permission is a violation of FERPA even if the students’ names are obscured. Please use SpiritOnline, which includes the appropriate security controls to post student grades. Once the grades are posted in SpiritOnline, they are available for student view in the secure application.
Returning graded papers and assignments
Distributing graded work in a way that exposes the student’s identity or leaving personally identifiable graded papers unattended is no different from posting grades publicly. If the papers contain “personally identifiable” information, then leaving them unattended for anyone to see is a violation of FERPA. If graded assignments cannot be distributed in class, it is acceptable to leave the assignments with a departmental assistant who can verify a student’s identity by viewing their ID card or a driver’s license prior to releasing the assignment to the student.
If non-directory information is needed to resolve a crisis or emergency situation, an education institution may release that information if the institution determines that the information is “necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.” In the case of an emergency, contact the appropriate individuals (e.g., Office of Campus Safety) and describe the situation that led you to make the call. Document with whom you spoke, when you called or were called, and the details of your conversation.
Letters of recommendation
Written permission of the student is required for a letter of recommendation if any information included in the recommendation is part of the “education record” (grades, GPA, and other non-directory information) or is an assessment of a student’s performance, such as her/his rank in the class. Statements made from personal observation or knowledge do not require a signed release.
Best Practices for Faculty and Administration
SCENARIO 1: On the first day of class, you pass your roster around the room, asking the students to sign beside their names.
Any problems here? YES! You have just circulated every student’s ID number. This is part of the student record that the University maintains, and must be kept confidential.
SCENARIO 2: In an effort to get grades to students quickly, you post a list of grades on your office door, identifying them by the last four digits of their SSN.
Is this okay? No. The courts have ruled that any portion of the SSN is considered confidential and must be protected.
SCENARIO 3: A student comes to your office to ask for her grade. While you’re not paying attention, she looks at your computer screen and sees the grades of her classmates. Have you violated FERPA?
Yes. Education records that are personally identifiable are protected by FERPA, regardless of the medium in which they are maintained, and it is your responsibility to protect the privacy of the records that you access.
SCENARIO 4: Is it acceptable to place exams on the table in the front of the room and have the students find their own as they enter class?
No. Even if you don’t have the grade written on the exam, it is still an education record belonging to each student, and thus, protected by FERPA.
SCENARIO 5: A student comes to your office and insists that you let him see notes that you have written in your files about him. Must you let him see the notes?
No. Education records are only those that are identifiable and maintained by the institution. As long as you never share them with anyone else, these are considered your personal notes, and are not covered by FERPA.
SCENARIO 6: A man identifying himself as the father of one of your students shows up at your office. He says that it is an emergency and he must find his daughter. Is it okay for you to tell him where she is?
No. For the safety of the student, never tell anyone the location of a student. In this situation, the correct action is to refer the person to the Office of Campus Safety.
SCENARIO 7: Since you refuse to give the student’s location, the parent asks for the student’s current phone number. You remember that directory information is not considered a confidential education record, so can you give him the number?
No. Students have the right to prevent the disclosure of this information. If they have requested this, it will be on file in Enrollment Services. For that reason, all requests for student information should be directed there.
SCENARIO 8: A police officer, showing identification, says that he is conducting an investigation and must know if a certain student was in attendance on a specific day. Is it okay to give him this information?
No. He should be referred to Enrollment Services. What if he has a subpoena – is it now okay to give him the information? No. There are specific procedures, required by FERPA, that must be followed. Refer the officer to Enrollment Services.
SCENARIO 9: A mother calls to see how her son is doing in your class. What should you tell her?
Nothing. Even by letting her know that he is still enrolled, you could be violating FERPA (he may have signed to prevent disclosure of directory information). The best approach is to direct the parent to ask your son or daughter directly. Students may submit a FERPA Consent to Release Student Information that is available in Enrollment Services. Students can submit this to authorize a third party access to their records.
SCENARIO 10: In the discussion with the mother, you are reminded that the student is only 16 years old. Is it okay to discuss his progress with the parent, since he is still a minor?
No. FERPA transfers all rights from the parents to the student when the student reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. Parents should be advised to discuss this with their son or daughter directly.
SCENARIO 11: Professor Smith asks you what grade Joe Johnson earned in your Italian 101 class last semester. Can you tell him?
It depends. FERPA allows disclosure of education records to school officials with a legitimate educational interest. For example, Professor Smith would have a legitimate educational interest if he were teaching Italian 102 or if he were Joe’s Academic Advisor. If there is no legitimate educational interest, you cannot tell him the grade, even though he is a professor at Saint Peter’s.
SCENARIO 12: One of your students emails you and asks for his grade on last week’s exam. Can you send it to him?
YES but…Emailing Non-Directory Information is “discouraged” because of the ability to forward. Email from a Saint Peter’s account to a Saint Peter’s account has an implied level of security but if the email leaves our server, who knows what could happen to it. It’s just good practice to NOT email Non-Directory Information, but can you? Yes. A better approach would be to utilize the University’s student database (SpiritOnline). Students can view their grades securely online by logging into SpiritOnline.
SCENARIO 13: A student has a form that asks for the grade received in your class and asks you to fill it in and sign it. Should you?
While this wouldn’t be a violation of FERPA, you still should not do it. The student may have a hold on his account (unpaid tuition, etc). FERPA requires that we allow him access to his grade, but we do not have to give him any official copy of it if he owes us something. Refer these forms to Enrollment Services. We will either complete the form or return it to you stamped “Approved by Enrollment Services” (at which time you can complete the form).
SCENARIO 14: A student requests that you write a letter of recommendation for them. Do you need a release from the student?
It depends. In general, a written release is recommended, not required. Faculty may include information from personal observation or knowledge without the student’s consent. If the recommendation will include non-directory/personally identifiable information you cannot release any education records (grades, GPA, etc.) without written permission. Releases from the student should specify the information that may be disclosed, the identity of the party to whom the disclosure can be made, the student’s signature and the date.
SCENARIO 15: I am going to Antarctica for the winter break and won’t be back until the first day of the Spring semester. Can I leave an envelope of final exams on my door and have the students pick out theirs?
NO! Recorded grades are Non-Directory information and cannot be made public without the student’s written consent. What to do? Either make arrangements for your Department to distribute the exams in your absence, or – if you’d like – tell the students that if they wish to receive their exams before you return to campus they can provide you with a stamped addressed envelope.
SCENARIO 16: You would like to contact all Buddhist undergraduate students to see if they’d be interested in a minor your working on. Can the Registrar’s Office supply their email addresses?
YES but…Email addresses are considered Directory Information but… Religious affiliation is Non-Directory and cannot be released without the student’s permission. What to do? Design a generic communication for all enrolled students and send this via the University’s mass communication email.
SCENARIO 17: Can students evaluate each other’s work in class?
Yes. Students may evaluate each other’s work in class as long as it has not yet been graded by the instructor.
When in doubt, do not give it out. Contact the Registrar’s Office.
If you have questions about FERPA, please contact the Office of the University Registrar by email at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at (201) 761.6050.