FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This page provides real-world scenarios and actions as a learning tool designed to provide faculty and staff a better understanding of the confidentiality protections that this federal law affords the records that colleges and universities maintain about their students.

Before accessing student records, carefully review the material presented here and on the FERPA Information page. Maintaining confidentiality of student records can be achieved by knowing a few basic requirements of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

This information is designed to give you a basic understanding of the rules governing how to control access and the release of student information at Wheaton College. This will enable you to feel comfortable performing your job while respecting students’ rights to privacy of their records. This will allow you and the College to be in compliance with FERPA.

This is not an exhaustive treatise on the topic of FERPA, but it does address the essential elements of the law.  It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. Specific questions regarding FERPA may be addressed by the Registrar or the Dean of Students.

For more information, or consultation regarding specific situations, you may contact the Office of the Registrar.


Scenario 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 her immediately because of a family emergency. Can you tell him when and where her next class is today?

Action:
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 of Students Office or the Office of the Registrar for more information.

When this situation arises, follow prescribed College procedure.

Scenario 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?

Action:
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 Office of the Registrar. Information about the recruiting firm, however, could be provided to students and should be forwarded to the Office of Academic and Career Services.

Scenario 3

A student asks you for grade information because there is a hold on his or her record. Do you give the grade to him or her?

Action:
Yes, it is allowable but discouraged.

By law, students may view records but institutions may withhold official copies of documents when money is owed to the institution. Therefore, if a student has a hold, they most likely have an outstanding balance with the College and are being prompted to make arrangements for payment by being directed to a business associate to resolve the matter. Holds may also be applied for reasons other than finances, and are effective only when the student goes through appropriate channels to get access to the record. (FERPA allows us to withhold access for up to 45 days.)

Scenario 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 a investigation, are you allowed to give them this information?

Action:
No. The police should first be directed to the Dean of Students Office.

Information about whether or not a student was enrolled in a particular semester is directory information and can be obtained through the Office of the Registrar. If the police require more detailed 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.

Scenario 5

You receive a request to release grade information. Can you provide this information?

Action:
No. Since grades are not included in “Directory Information”, this information cannot be released without the student’s written permission.

Scenario 6

Is it allowable for faculty to leave exams, papers, etc. outside their offices for students to pick up?

Action:
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.

Scenario 7

An unauthorized person retrieves information from a computer screen that was left unattended. Is the staff member responsible for this?

Action:
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.

Scenario 8

You have been granted access to certain educational records in accordance with your duties at Wheaton. Since this is information you are entitled to under FERPA, can you redisclose this information to any party?

Action:
No. FERPA states that you may not redisclose information without prior consent from the student.

There are some occasions when this is allowable, such as release to organizations conducting educational studies, accrediting agencies and judicial orders. Check with the Office of the Registrar before releasing information.

Scenario 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?

Action:
Yes. The health and safety of members of the Wheaton 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 educational 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.”

Scenario 10

A person comes to an advisor’s office with a letter containing a signature that gives consent to release the transcript of a students. Do you give the transcript to them?

Action:
No. Transcripts are available only through the Office of the Registrar.

Official transcripts are available only through the Office of the Registrar. Students themselves can also produce a transcript through WINDOW. Do not give any records to a third party.

Read more about the FERPA law and basic rules for compliance.