Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES FOR ADMINISTRATION AND STAFF
Helping Students Handle Increased Independence and Responsibility
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.
Understanding Your FERPA Rights and Responsibilities
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. Administrators and staff 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.
Invoking FERPA’s Health and Safety Emergency Exception
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 administrators, staff and faculty, as 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 written and electronic communications 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.
Using Your Personal Observations and Knowledge to Help Students
What is often misunderstood about FERPA—and critically important to administrator and staff roles 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, i f 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 disruptive students 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.
Take advantage of the FAQs for Administrators and Staff about the BGSU Student Records Policy to learn more about your rights and responsibilities under FERPA as well as the procedures and forms available for acting upon these rights and responsibilities:
FAQs for Administrators and Staff about the BGSU Student Records Policy
Academic Issues and Grades
- What advice can I give to faculty members who would like to give students their grades before they are officially posted on MyBGSU by the Office of Registration and Records without violating FERPA?
- As an academic adviser, I keep personal notes to remind me of conversations I’ve had with students or others related to their program as I track their academic progress. Are these notes exempt from FERPA?
- Where can I access the student version of the Code of Academic Conduct to help students learn more about it to avoid making mistakes?
- A graduate student in our department is verbally abusive to the office staff members. Who can I call to resolve this situation ?
- Do I have the right to know if this student has a history of disciplinary sanctions at BGSU?
- How can I learn more about the University’s Student Discipline program and process?
Family Emergency Notification of Students
- I’m a staff member on the BGSU campus. If a family member calls in an attempt to reach a student regarding an emergency situation at home, should I give out any information that might help to find the student?
- I’m a staff member on the Firelands campus. If a family member calls me in an attempt to reach a student regarding an emergency situation at home, where should I redirect the call?
Health and Safety of Students
- What can I tell parents who are concerned about their student’s recurring depression and want to know about his or her behavior in the residence hall?
- Are there simple guidelines I can follow in the event of an emergency involving a student?
- Students often ask me to write letters of reference to potential employers and graduate programs. Do I need to get their written consent before I write the letter?
- What should I do if I receive a subpoena for a student’s education records?
- If I request and receive a report which includes confidential student information, can I share that information with someone else (a third party)?
- Can BGSU student organizations request and receive lists of students with directory information?
- A local company called offering summer employment opportunities for several students who work in Residence Life. May I release their contact information?
Academic Issues and Grades
What advice can I give to faculty members who would like to give students their grades before they are officially posted on MyBGSU by the Office of Registration and Records without violating FERPA?
Regardless of whether faculty members are disseminating individual exam/paper/project grades or semester grades, they must not post a list of grades publicly by name or student BGSU ID number. Likewise, they cannot not place the exams or papers in a pile from which students sort through to find their own work. When handing students their exams or papers individually in class, faculty members must be discrete in placing the grade in a position not easily seen by other students. Grades can never be revealed over the phone.
The only way faculty members may post grades outside their office or on the MyBGSU course site is to assign a confidential code that cannot be identified by others to each individual student. These codes should in no way be alphabetically linked. The students must be informed in advance of the procedure for posting the grades. Students may request their grades be mailed in self-addressed envelopes. However, grades should never be mailed on postcards or sent by email. Registration and Records posts the official grades on MyBGSU, the preferred way to release student grades, on the Thursday following exam week.
As an academic adviser, I keep personal notes to remind me of conversations I’ve had with students or others related to their program as I track their academic progress. Are these notes exempt from FERPA?
Yes. Records that are kept in your sole possession, are used only as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a substitute (e.g., graduate assistant or support personnel), are not considered education records under FERPA.
Where can I access the student version of the Code of Academic Conduct to help students learn more about it to avoid making mistakes?
For a complete description of the code and the procedures for prevention and resolutions of alleged violations, please visit the Code of Academic Conduct. A primary objective of the Code of Academic Conduct, often referred to as the Academic Dishonesty Policy, is to communicate to all members of the University community the conviction of the University and its faculty that cheating and plagiarism are destructive of the mission of the University and are universally disapproved.
If students follow this simple rule, they are not likely to be accused of violating the Code of Academic Conduct. If, accused of violating the code, however, he or she and other education officials, including the instructor, academic unit chair or director, dean of the college, the registrar and Vice President for Academic Affairs, will be notified in Parents will not be notified unless the student has given them access to their student records through either the Student’s Authorization to Release Education Information/Revoke Previous Request or the Consent to Release Information form available through the Office of the Dean of Students .
A graduate student in our department is verbally abusive to the office staff members. Who can I call to resolve this situation ?
You can contact the Student Discipline Program staff in the Office of the Dean of Students at (419) 372-2843, BGSU’s Police Department non-emergency number at (419) 372-2346 or, if you believe the safety of you and/or others is immediately at risk, call 911 from a campus phone. The Counseling Center may also have good suggestions that will help you assess the risk to you and/or others in your office and quite possibly rectify the behavior. Many resources are available to you. Don’t be afraid to use them.
Do I have the right to know if this student has a history of disciplinary sanctions at BGSU?
Disciplinary records are considered education records and, therefore, are protected under FERPA. Police records, however, are not protected. If you have concerns about your safety or the safety of your students, call Student Discipline Programs in the Office of the Dean of Students at (419) 372-2843 or BGSU’s Police Department non-emergency number at (419) 372-2346. The Counseling Center may also have good suggestions to help you assess the risk to you and/or your students and quite possibly rectify the behavior.
If you believe the risk to you and/or your students or colleagues is immediate, call 911 from a campus phone or (419) 372-2346 from a cell phone or other non-University phone to reach BGSU’s Police Department . Calling 911 from a non-university cell phone will reach the Ohio State Patrol and may delay response time.
How can I learn more about the University’s Student Discipline program and process?
The links below provide a broad range of information related to student life and procedures for discipline at BGSU. You may also want to contact the University’s Office of the Dean of Students for more information.
Family Emergency Notification of Students
I’m a staff member on the BGSU campus. If a student’s family member calls me in an attempt to reach the student regarding an emergency situation at home, should I give out any information that might help to find the student?
No. You should leave that responsibility to the BGSU’s Police Department or Registration and Records . In a true emergency BGSU’s Police Department makes reasonable attempts to contact the student and deliver a message.
I’m a staff member on the Firelands campus. If a family member calls me in an attempt to reach a student regarding an emergency situation at home, where should I redirect the call?
You can transfer the call to the Firelands Switchboard at 419-433-5560, and a reasonable attempt will be made to contact the student and deliver a message. You can find additional emergency information for the Firelands campus at Firelands Emergency Contacts .
Health and Safety of Students
What can I tell parents who are concerned about their student’s recurring depression and want to know about his or her behavior in the residence hall?
Many administrators and staff members are surprised to learn that their personal observations and knowledge of a student are not considered education records and, therefore, are not covered by FERPA’s restrictions. If you have concerns based on your experience with the student, you may convey those concerns to the parent or discuss the issue with a representative of the Counseling Center . However, you are not responsible for handling the problem. It is best to refer the parent and/or student to appropriate resources on campus to assure that the proper care is provided.
Are there guidelines I can follow in the event of an emergency involving a student?
The health and safety emergency exception allows for the release of information that would normally be protected by FERPA if the institution makes the determination that the information is “necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals” involved in the incident. Critical to this decision is the nature of the situation, the immediacy of danger, the relevance of the protected information in solving the problem or averting a crisis, and the ability of responders to address the emergency. BGSU’s Police Department and the Office of the Dean of Students offer excellent resources and advice.
Students often ask me to write letters of reference to potential employers and graduate programs. Do I need to get their written consent before I write the letter?
That depends on two things. First, if the student has restricted release of his or her directory information, you need to get the consent in writing. Second, if you intend to include information from the student’s education records other than directory information, such as GPA, school-related employment, etc., you must get written consent. The easiest way to get this consent is to have the student complete a Student’s Authorization to Release Education Information/Revoke Previous Request that identifies both you and the individual(s) who will receive the letter. The student has the option of revoking the consent for disclosure at anytime. The form is available from the Bursar’s Office .
What should I do if I receive a subpoena for a student’s education records?
Immediately notify your supervisor who will then contact the Office of General Counsel. General Counsel will process the request and determine what steps are necessary to respond. However, as required by law, the student will be notified before the University responds to the subpoena.
If I request and receive a report which includes confidential student information, can I share that information with someone else (a third party)?
FERPA regulations require that education records released for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose alone with the understanding that the information will not be disclosed to any other party without the written consent of the student(s).
Can BGSU student organizations request and receive lists of students with directory information?
Each request is considered individually on the basis of its merit and may or may not be granted. In addition, the process for requesting the information differs between student organizations registered through the Division of Student Affairs (e.g., Latino Student Union, various clubs and fraternities/sororities) and those overseen by the colleges in Academic Affairs (e.g., professional organizations and honorary societies).
Student Affairs organizations should contact the BGSU Office of the Dean of Students to request access to directory information. If the request is determined to be appropriate, it will be forwarded to Registration and Records for approval and processing. Student academic organizations should contact their faculty adviser who, upon his or her approval, will submit the request to the Registrar.
Although some directory information is accessible on-line and in the BGSU Information & Resource Guide, not all directory information is public. FERPA leaves access to these records to the discretion of the institution.
A local company called offering summer employment opportunities for several students who work in Residence Life. May I release the student contact information?
Although basic contact information falls under the category of directory information and is not generally considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released, the University is not mandated to release this information. For those students who have requested that their directory information be withheld, the answer is simply no. You cannot release the information. A better way of handling this situation would be to distribute the employer information to the students who can then decide whether or not they wish to make contact.