FERPA Scenarios for Faculty and Staff

FERPA Scenarios for Faculty and Staff

Instructor Smith, who teaches MATH 1320, requests for the MATH 1310 grades and cumulative GPA’s and cumulative GPAs for three of his current students (Note: MATH 1310 is pre-requisite to MATH 1320).  Can you provide the information? 

Answer:  Instructor Smith has a legitimate educational “need to know” what grades his students received in a pre-requisite course.  However, he does not have a “need to know” the students’ GPA

You receive a phone call from the local police department asking if you can verify that one of your students was scheduled for a class on a specific date and time.  The police officer indicates he is involved in an investigation concerning the student.  Are you permitted to provide the requested information?

Answer:  No, not without a subpoena or official court order.  Any subpoenas or court orders  should be brought to the Registrar’s Office for processing.

You receive a call from AUM campus police to get the address and class schedule of a student.   You are informed that he has a warrant for the student’s arrest. Can you provide the requested information?

Answer: FERPA considers campus security officials as employees with a “legitimate educational interest” if they are designated as “university officials” and operating within the scope of their employment.  The warrant would not be necessary.  Such requests should be forwarded to the Registrar’s Office for processing.

You receive a frantic phone call from someone stating to be a student’s mother who must get in touch with her daughter immediately due to a family emergency.  Can you provide information pertaining to the student’s class schedule?

Answer:  No. You can offer to send someone to the student’s class to ask her to call home.  You can contact Campus Police or Student Affairs to locate the student if necessary.

You receive a call from someone indicating they are performing a background check on a student in preparation for a job offer.  The student has not provided written consent to release educational information.  How can you respond?

Answer: Unless the student has placed a confidentiality flag on his/her record, you can provide directory information (including major, degree and awards received).  You can also provide personal observations you have of the student.  However, without written consent from the student, you cannot relay any other information from the educational record, including grades, GPA, etc.

An FBI agent comes to your office and asks for a copy of a student’s transcript or some other non-directory information.  The agent presents his badge and states he’s performing a background check.  Can you release the information?

Answer: Only if the agent presents a written release signed by the student specifying this specific information can be released to the FBI.

A parent calls to talk about why her son received a poor grade in your class.  Can you talk with her?

Answer:  Unless the student has given written consent allowing his mother access to his records you cannot discuss specifies of her son’s situation.  You can, however, discuss your grading philosophy in general terms, as presented on the course syllabus.

The faculty advisor for a sorority has asked for GPAs of all the members in order that scholarships and academic honors can be determined.  Can you provide the information?

Answer:  Yes, the advisor has a legitimate “needs to know”.  However, you should remind the advisor not to share the information to the sorority members or anyone else.

A mother calls your office, looking for information about her son.  She has not heard from him in three weeks and he has not returned her phone calls.  She is worried.  She wants the names, phone numbers and email addresses of her son’s instructors to verify whether or not her son is  attending classes.  Should you provide that information?

Answer:  Under routine circumstances, you cannot release course information to Mom since course enrollment information is not considered directory information.  You could contact the faculty members on behalf of the mother to inquire about attendance.  If it turns out that the student has recently not been attending class, it would then be advisable to contact campus police and let the mother know.  In addition, if you or others have recently seen the student, you could communicate that information to the mother since “observations” are not information from an educational record.

You receive a call from the parents of one of you former students. Their son was dismissed over a year ago. The parents live in Florida and have been paying for their son to attend AUM for every term during the last three years.  They called to see how things were going since they didn’t hear much from their son. How do you handle the conversation? 

Answer:  FERPA permits disclosure of information from educational records to parents of student in a few different circumstance:

  •    A health or safety emergency situation
  •    When the student has been found in violation of conduct related to a controlled substance or alcohol and is under the age of 21
  •    When the student is dependent based on the IRS definition of “dependency”
  •    When you have written permission of the student

In this case, prior consent is required to release anything but directory information. However, if the student has not opted out of directory information, the school official could inform the parent that the student is not a student at the institution.  You cannot tell the parents he was dismissed. Also, consider practical tips for talking with the parents.  Find out what they already know and build from it. If appropriate, discuss use of the IRS dependency exception for providing access to their son’s record.

A parent wants the ability to speak with her daughter’s instructors on a regular basis regarding her progress in classes.  The daughter has signed a consent from granting her mother access to this information. Are you required to honor this request?

Answer:  No. The only disclosure requirement that is a “must” under FERPA is to the student.  All other disclosures, even with a student’s release form is a “may”.  The decision to engage in dialog with a parent is up to the discretion of the faculty member or department personnel.

Your advisee’s parents are divorced.  By agreement, the mother claims him as dependent, but his father is helping to pay his way through college.  The student and his mother have refused to share anything with the father about his academic progress.  Can you share this information with the father about his academic progress.  Can you share this information with the father without the student’s consent?

Answer:  FERPA allows release of information without consent to either parent if the student is claimed as a dependent on either parent’s most recent tax form.  A tax return validating dependency must be filed with the Registrar prior to releasing the information. If the father cannot obtain a copy of the tax return he might need to resort to court action to obtain the educational records information.

An applicant provides a high school transcript as part of his AUM application.  The student is not admitted to AUM.  Another university asks for a copy of the transcript.  Can you provide it?

Answer:  No. Even though the student did not enroll at AUM and is, therefore, not protected under FERPA, FERPA prohibits institutions from re-disclosing an educational record received from another institution unless we have the student’s written consent.

A student asks you to write a letter of recommendation for a job application. She provides you with a copy of her resume that indicates her GPA.  May you include in the letter the GPA and grades she received in your class? 

Answer:  No. Without the student giving written consent, you may not disclose non-directory information from her educational record.  FERPA requires explicit (not implied) consent.

A student in your online class informs you that they have a confidentiality flag on their record and states, that because of the flag, she cannot participate in required online chat among her classmates.  Must you excuse her from this portion of the class?

Answer:  No. Confidentiality does not allow the student to remain anonymous in class.  She will be required to participate in all required components of the course.

You teach a class that has a Web-based discussion component.  Class members can see each other’s email address and name.  It is open to the public for view or use.  Are there any FERPA issues?

Answer:  No. Since the discussion is only accessible to student in the class, there is no FERPA violation.  However, non-directory information should not be displayed on the site. The 2009 FERPA regulations specifically state that student usernames can be displayed to others in a class even if the student in question has chosen “no release” for their directory information.

Instructor Jones wants to make her online course management (i.e., Moodle) pages publicly accessible to anyone.  Are there FERPA considerations for making this information available to individuals beyond the course?

Answer: Yes. Specific course registrations and personally identifiable class materials from students are not directory information.  Therefore, they should not be publically accessible. Additionally, there may be students who have chosen “no release” for their directory information displaying their information effectively disregards this request.

You receive a letter of recommendation supposedly from a student’s adviser at a previous institution.  You have reason to believe that the letter has been forged.  Is it permissible to return the letter to the alleged creator for verification without the student’s permission?

Answer:  Yes. FERPA permits the return of a record to the creator or originator of that record in order to verify authenticity without the student’s permission.

You have found a great new online tool that you would like to use as part of your class.  Can you upload your class list to the vendor’s website so that the students can log into the site?

Answer:  No. Class enrollment is not considered directory information and therefore requires either written consent of every student in the class, or an official contract between the vendor and AUM containing FERPA specific clauses.

Are comment and notes related to a discussion you had with a student considered part of the educational record?

Answer:  It depends.  If the comments and notes are recorded in BANNER or kept in a file that is accessible to even one other person they are considered an educational record and subject to FERPA protection.  If the comments and notes are kept simply as “memory joggers” and not shared with even one other person they are considered “sole possession” documents and not part of the educational record.  Since FERPA grants students the right to review and access their records, the notes that do not meet the “sole possession” criteria should be included in that review.  Therefore, it is important that all written comments or notes be factual and objective and devoid of inappropriate value judgments or language.
A former AUM student has transferred to another university and is now enrolled there. A change was made to the student’s AUM record after the record was sent to the new university.  Must you obtain the student’s written consent prior to sending the updated record to the new university?

Answer: No. FERPA permits an amended record to be sent to the new institution without the the student’s consent as long as the disclosure is for purposes related to the student’s enrollment or transfer.

A student who is a high school junior enrolls in an AUM course during the summer. The student is 16 years old.  The parents ask for a copy of the student’s grades.  Are you permitted to release the grades to the parents since the student is under the age of 18? 

Answer: No. When the student enrolls in a post-secondary institution regardless of age, all FERPA rights belong to the student.

Another department wants to contact the parents of graduating seniors to offer them the opportunity to purchase a graduation gift for their son/daughter.  They ask if you can provide the parents’ email address.  Can you?

Answer:  No. The parent’s email address is considered non-directory and, therefore, personally identifiable information on the student.  Written student consent would be required from every student.

One of your past advisees graduated from AUM several years ago.  He has been a very involved alumnus.  A journalist wants to write a story about his involvement with the University.  What information can you provide?

Answer:  Alumni records created after the student is no longer enrolled as a student are not governed by FERPA and are, therefore, not considered, an educational record.  However, without the alum’s written consent, only directory information can be released from educational records created when he was a student.

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