Academic institutions are required under federal law to treat student academic records as confidential. Under the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), students have certain rights to privacy concerning the release of their educational records.
Many offices at the college have access to student records through their networked computer. This access has been established to provide information in a timely fashion for those who work with students, but it also provides the potential for inadvertent or deliberate violations of students' privacy rights. It is the responsibility of faculty and staff to be aware of limitations on how this information may be used.
Although the law is continually being interpreted in court cases, the following general guidelines should be observed:
- Student records may be viewed by college officials for college business. Instructors, advisers, deans, or department chairs may review a student's academic records, such as courses taken and grades earned. Such access is limited to those with a legitimate educational interest in the student's record. Viewing information for personal reasons is a violation of the student's privacy rights.
- Because FERPA gives students the right of access to their official educational records, information may be disclosed to the individual student. In the case of phone calls, however, you should not release information unless you are certain that the caller is the student.
- Student data may not be disclosed to third parties unless the student provides a written statement permitting release. This prohibition includes the student's parents unless the student is a dependent as defined for federal income tax purposes.
- Information may not be released to government officials (including those from law enforcement agencies) without a written release from the student or a court order. Any subpoenas or court orders for student academic records should be referred to the registrar's office.
- Under the provisions of FERPA, the college may release directory information about current students without violating privacy rights. Directory information includes name, address and telephone number, as well as verification of dates of enrollment and degrees awarded. Individual students may request that this directory information not be released. When that happens, those students are excluded from any printed directories.
- When in doubt, information should not be released. For example, if a caller needs to know where a student is because of an emergency, never look up a student's class schedule and give it out. Instead, refer the caller to the security office, which will locate the student if they determine the call is legitimate.
- The posting of grades is discouraged, unless it is done with some system of codes that adequately prevents the identification of the students. Faculty should also avoid the practice of leaving graded exams or papers in an area to be picked up by students.
- Anyone with access to student records must observe the FERPA restrictions. In general, undergraduate student workers should not be given access to areas where student information resides because of the potential for misuse. If there is a need for graduate assistants to work with student data, they should first be informed of these privacy concerns.
- It is important for all college employees to be aware of and to follow these guidelines. Violations of students’ privacy rights can result in legal action or in the elimination of federal aid to the college. Any questions may be directed to the Registrar's Office, Founders Hall, Room 112, or phone 802.654.2571.