FYI: your rights to privacy– FERPA

Before 1974, schools could hand out student GPAs, disciplinary records, or phone numbers to almost anyone who asked.

The Family Educational Right and Privacy Act changed that. Schools now must ask students for permission before they distribute any educational data.

The protections that FERPA provides apply to all students who are admitted to UAA. For the 23 percent of students who are rejected from UAA, FERPA does not apply.

FERPA applies to many everyday concerns. For instance, professors are not supposed to leave graded papers in public, though many do. They can distribute emails to other students, but not phone numbers, or other private information.

UAA hosted a FERPA training for faculty last Wednesday and Thursday. Interim Registrar Shirlee Willis-Haslip and Dean of Students Dewain Lee, who deal with FERPA issues on a daily basis, presented.

If students offer private information in a public setting, Willis-Haslip recommended that faculty should stop them and suggest that they discuss that in private.

Shirlee Willis-Haslip recommended that faculty not transmit records to whoever wants them. Even directory information, faculty is not obligated to release unless they can see a valid educational reason to do so.

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And in general, “Don’t allow students to see other students’ papers,” Willis-Haslip said.

Upon admission, students have the option to remove themselves from the directory. Doing so means that the university cannot contact the student without the student’s explicit permission and confirmation of their identity.

Often this backfires. Willis-Haslip said that a lot of students sign the option without realizing that the university cannot talk to you.

A hold will appear on the student’s account, and when the student tries to call the university to ask why, staff can only say that they don’t have the individual on file. In most cases, the student will have to go to the University Center with identification to have the hold removed.

“Confidential hold doesn’t go so far as they’re invisible, but it does protect confidential records,” Willis-Haslip said

Willis-Haslip said that she has known only two cases where students have said that their FERPA rights were violated. The university researched each case and did not find that FERPA rights were violated.

The Dean of Students often handles the release of information when pertaining to disciplinary records.

If the student is under 21, Lee’s office can release information to parents regarding violations of the code of conduct: disciplinary, drinking, etc. Lee said that there have been subpoenas for information in the past, and the office was obligated to turn over information to the police.

Some of these subpoenas have included emails.

FERPA is a big deal for schools, as not following it can result in a loss of federal funding.

UAA offers FERPA information sessions throughout the year, each tailored to students, parents, and faculty. The registrar maintains a list of relevant FERPA points on its website.