Sharing Student Information with Parents and University Officials Without Written Student Consent in Compliance with FERPA

Guidance for W&L Faculty, 2017
Office of the General Counsel

What is FERPA and why is it important?

A: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 ("FERPA" or "the Buckley Amendment") is a federal law that gives students access to their "education record" and protects the privacy of that record.

What student information is covered by FERPA?

A: FERPA covers a student's "education record," which means any information or data recorded in any medium, including but not limited to handwriting, email, print, etc. that is directly related to a student and maintained by or on behalf of the University. Examples include grades, test scores, evaluations, courses taken, advising records, disciplinary actions, course papers and exams.

A: FERPA does not cover information that did not come from a student's written education record, but about which a faculty member has general or personal knowledge. (What the student told you that is not part of his/her education record, what you have personally observed about the student in class, etc.)

What may I discuss with parents without written student consent?
A: You may always share "directory information," unless a student has opted out of any disclosures of such information (includes email, local phone and address, adviser, enrollment status, academic awards, major, etc.) - - see list under the Directory Information heading in the Disclosure of Student Records section of the University's FERPA policy at http://www.wlu.edu/general-counsel/code-of-policies/confidentiality-and-information-security/ferpa. The University Registrar's Student Information Spreadsheet (sharepoint.wlu.edu/adhoc/lad/Pages/Student-Information.aspx) can confirm a student's "opt out" status.

A: You may have a general conversation with parents about the student covering topics about which you have general/personal knowledge and that do not come from the student's education record. Examples:

"John is doing well in class"
"John has shown a keen interest in class topics and participates in discussions"
"John is not always in class"
"John seems to be struggling a bit with some of the material," etc.

A: Two caveats: (1) you should try to verify that you are talking to a parent or guardian; and (2) if asked for information that is a part of the student's education record (grades, attendance specifics, exam scores), advise the parent that you cannot release such information without the student's written consent. If the parent questions this restriction, advise that the law does not give parents of university students the "right" to access the student record; that right belongs to the student alone. Encourage the parent to discuss the specifics with the student or to request student consent for you to do so with the parent. The students give their consent using the Web release through WebAdvisor, "Student Information Releases (FERPA)."

A: W&L's general practice is to require student written (electronic) consent for disclosure of education record information to parents outside circumstances of directory information or general knowledge (non-education record information).

A: FERPA also allows W&L discretion to release education record information to parents in a health or safety emergency. If you become aware of information about a student that might present a health or safety risk, you should communicate that to the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, the Director of Public Safety, or the Director of Student Health and Counseling, as appropriate.

May I release student education record information to other university faculty and staff (or may they release it to me) without student consent?

A: FERPA allows a university discretion to release education record information to school officials who have a legitimate educational interest in the information (e.g., a faculty adviser needing a student's grades in all classes, or an associate dean talking with a faculty member about possible accommodations for a student's disability). As well, a university has discretion to release such information as needed in a health or safety emergency.

Where can I go if I have other questions about FERPA?

A: Scott Dittman (8452), Barbara Rowe (8454), Jennifer Kirkland (8929), Jana Shearer (8296)
A:  go.wlu.edu/OGC/FERPA (W&L Policy)
Note: Portions of this guidance are adopted with permission from "FERPA FAQ" at the Catholic University Office of General Counsel website (counsel.cua.edu/ferpa/questions/).