Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES FOR FACULTY
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives colleges and universities the option to release specific types of information from a student’s education record. Faculty members are considered university officials under FERPA regulations when performing specific functions of their position related to the student educational experience. Therefore, in fulfilling your professional responsibilities, you may need to know, use, manage and/or disseminate confidential information about your students. Depending on the specific requirements of your responsibilities, this legitimate educational interest grants you access to all or parts of student educational records.
You are encouraged to keep the lines of communication open with individual students to maximize your ability to suggest appropriate services available across campus if you suspect some type of support or intervention would be to their benefit. The health and safety emergency exception is a clause in FERPA that permits faculty and other university officials to release protected education records in an emergency situation where the health and/or safety of a student or others is imminently at risk. Referencing the list of Support Contacts in your syllabi may open doors for students to take the necessary steps to prevent health and safety concerns on their own.
Both FERPA and the Ohio Revised Code take a “good faith” approach in weighing the actions of university officials to protect students relative to mandated privacy protections of student education records. In other words, you cannot be sued when acting in good faith.
What is often misunderstood about FERPA—and critically important to the faculty member’s role in student welfare—is information that is not considered protected education records. Personal observations and knowledge not maintained or shared with others are not considered education records. Therefore, if you have observed behavior or have personal knowledge that suggests a student is in trouble, particularly when you believe the health or safety of the student or others may be in jeopardy, you are encouraged to solicit support and/or advice to diffuse the situation. This may be any action as simple as calling the Office of the Dean of Students for advice on handling classroom disruptions to calling BGSU’s Police Department to respond to an emergency. As explained above, FERPA’s health and safety emergency exception can be invoked without violation of student privacy.
The BGSU experience is intended to foster student social and intellectual growth, maturation and ability to make informed decisions as they exercise new freedoms in an adult world. With these new freedoms, comes increasing responsibility for their actions, on and off campus. But making the right choices is not always easy when just starting out. Therefore, FERPA provides a safety net by giving colleges and universities restricted options to release information from student education records to faculty and staff, as well as parents and certain individuals or agencies. These options come into play when a legitimate educational interest has been verified or the health and safety emergency exception has been invoked.