Understanding the Law
Maintaining confidentiality of student records can be achieved by knowing the basic requirements of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This tutorial is designed to give you a basic understanding of the rules governing release of student information at Williams College.
What is the Law?
FERPA regulations establish a student's right to:
- inspect and review their education records;
- request that corrections be made to their education records;
- consent to disclosures of personally identifiable information in their records;
- file a complaint if FERPA violations have occurred.
What is an Education Record?
Just about any information directly related to a student and maintained by Williams or by a person acting for Williams is considered an education record. Any record related directly to a student should be held in confidence.
Examples of Education Records
- student schedules
- names of students' advisors
- papers/student thesis/tests
- records of student discipline
- personal information such as; social security number, age, parent's name
Examples of Education Record Media
The storage media in which you find a student education record does not matter, it could be:
- a document in the Registrar's Office
- a computer printout in your office
- a class list on your desktop
- a computer display screen
- notes you have taken during an advising session
Not Considered Education Records
- sole possession records (not accessible or revealed to any other person)
- law enforcement records, as defined in FERPA
- employment records
- medical records
- post-attendance records
What are the Basic Rules?
Student education records are considered confidential and may not be released without the written consent of the student. As a faculty or staff member you have a responsibility to protect education records in your possession.
Some information is considered public, and is called "Directory Information" and can be released without the student's written permission. However, the student may opt to consider this information confidential as well and it will be flagged as such in the student's record.
You have access to non-directory information education records only for legitimate use to discharge your responsibilities as an employee. "Need to know" is the basic principle.
At Williams, you should not release any student information to a third party; you should refer all such requests for student information to the Registrar's Office.
Even parents of students do not have automatic rights (as they did in elementary and secondary school). Students need to inform the Registrar's Office in writing that it is OK to release information to their parents.
What are FERPA Violations?
To avoid violating FERPA rules, do not:
- use the ID Number of a student in a public posting of grades or link the name of a student with that student's ID number in any public manner;
- leave graded tests in a stack for students to pick up by sorting through the papers of all students;
- circulate a printed class list with student name and ID number or grades as an attendance roster;
- discuss the progress of any student with anyone (including parents) other than the student without the consent of the student or verifying that the student has granted access to the third party by contacting the Registrar's Office;
- provide anyone outside the college with lists of students enrolled in classes;
- provide anyone with student schedules or assist anyone other than Williams employees in finding a student on campus.
Take the Quiz!
1. You get a frantic phone call from an individual who says that he is a student’s father and must get in touch with them immediately because of a family emergency. Can you tell him when and where their next class is today?
No. For the safety of the student you cannot tell another person where a student is at any time. Inform the caller they should contact the Dean's Office or the Registrar's Office for more information.
When this situation arises, follow prescribed Williams procedure.
2. You receive a call from a recruiting firm asking for names and addresses of students with a GPA of 3.0 or better. They say they have good job information for these students. Can you help these students get jobs by giving out this information?
No. While we all want to help students to get good jobs, the request should be sent to the appropriate office.
Do not give out student information that pertains to grade point average to anyone without prior written consent of that student. All outside requests for information must be referred to the Registrar's Office. Information about the recruiting firm, however, could be provided to students and should be forwarded to the Career Center.
3. A student asks you for grade information over the phone because they don’t have access to PeopleSoft. Do you give the grade to them?
No. A written request is required to release grade information.
Since grades are not included in "Directory Information", this information cannot be released without the student's written permission.
4. You receive a phone call from the local police department indicating that they are trying to determine whether a particular student was in attendance on a specific day. Since they are in the middle of an investigation, are you allowed to give them this information?
No. The police should first be directed to the Registrar's Office.
Information about whether or not a student was enrolled in a particular semester is non-directory information and can be obtained through the Registrar's Office. If the police require more information, a subpoena may be required. Additionally, FERPA requires notification be sent to the student, unless it is specifically stated on the subpoena that the student must not be notified.
5. If a student’s parent calls asking how a student is doing in a class, can you give out that information?
No. Even though the person inquiring may be the student's parent, FERPA recognizes students in higher education as adults, regardless of age. Therefore, you cannot give out that grade, or any other non-directory information unless the student has granted access to his parents which can be confirmed by contacting the Registrar's Office. Be particularly careful if the student has graduated or is no longer at Williams. You can ask the student to grant you permission to talk to a parent if appropriate.
The law states colleges may, but are not required to give parents information even if the student is a dependent. Most students allow this, but some have requested that access be restricted. Therefore, it is important to confirm that this is allowable.
6. Is it allowable for faculty to leave exams, papers, etc. outside their offices for students to pick up?
No. That is a violation of the privacy rule because it is inappropriate for students to have access to other students' information.
You cannot leave personally identifiable materials in a public place.
7. An unauthorized person retrieves information from a computer screen that was left unattended. Under FERPA, is the staff member or institution responsible?
Yes. Information on a computer screen should be treated the same as printed reports.
The medium in which the information is held is unimportant. No information should be left accessible or unattended, including computer displays.
8. You have been granted access to certain education records in accordance with your duties at Williams. Since this is information you are entitled to under FERPA can you disclose this information to any party?
No. FERPA states that you may not disclose information without prior consent.
There are some occasions when this is allowable, such as release to organizations conducting education studies, accrediting agencies, and judicial orders. Check with the Registrar's Office before releasing information.
9. You are facing an emergency situation where you fear the health and safety of people is in jeopardy if you do not release certain protected information to a third party. Can you exercise judgment and release the information?
Yes. The health and safety of members of the Williams Community is paramount and FERPA is not intended to increase the risk of individuals' safety in an emergency situation.
There is a provision in FERPA which states that you may release information from an education record to an appropriate person "in connection with an emergency if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals."
Request Access to PeopleSoft
Now that you have a basic understanding of FERPA, request access to PeopleSoft.