FERPA: It's Not Just for Academic Departments Guidance for Administrative Offices on Handling Student Information

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act governs much of the information that might be shared about students by both administrative and academic departments at W&L. Since the law's requirements may be unfamiliar to many, we hope that this Q&A will help employees of administrative departments understand how FERPA may apply to their office's activities. For the full text of W&L's policy, including definitions of certain terms used below, please consult the W&L Student Education Records Policy, available at http://www.wlu.edu/general-counsel/code-of-policies/confidentiality-and-information-security/ferpa.

1. What is FERPA and how does it relate to me?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (you might know it as the Buckley Amendment) is a federal law that protects the confidentiality of certain records about students and gives students access to their records to assure the accuracy of their contents.

If you have access to information about individual students as part of your work, then you are responsible for protecting certain records under FERPA. Because student records are most often thought of as academic records (for example: transcripts, graded papers, student files), many administrative employees might assume that they don't have student records and that FERPA therefore does not apply. However, records held in administrative offices which have nothing to do with courses are still considered part of a student's education record. FERPA issues can arise, for example, in the contexts of accessing student address information, consulting work-study records, writing letters of recommendation, or dealing with conduct and health issues.

2. What is "directory information"?

Washington and Lee employees may disclose certain information on a student without violating FERPA if the information is what is known as "directory information." This includes a student's name, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, date and place of birth, field(s) of study, schedule of classes, dates of attendance, full- or part-time status, degrees and awards received, previous institution(s) attended, participation in officially recognized sports and activities, weight and height of athletes, and photographic or videotaped image(s).

Remember: Just because you can access student records does not give you the right to view student records. And just because you can release directory information does not mean that you should release it. W&L notifies students annually about what constitutes directory information and allows students to restrict the release of this information. Students who restrict the release of their directory information do not have information published in the "Register of Students, Faculty, and Staff" published on the Web. You should use common sense and protect the privacy of our students. If you are unsure about whether to release directory information, contact the University Registrar's Office at x8455.

3. How does FERPA apply to me if I have work-study students?

Many departments do not keep any records on their work-study students, but if you do, keep in mind that these records are protected by FERPA. Generally, these records shouldn't be shared with anyone else unless you have the student's consent or unless the person with whom you are sharing the records is a "school official" with a "legitimate educational interest" in the records. In the case of work-study students, you would likely be able to share the records with employees of the Business Office, Human Resources Office, and the relevant dean's office, as well as with faculty adviser(s).

4. Does FERPA affect my ability to provide a reference for a current or former W&L student?

Possibly. If you are giving a reference, FERPA does not apply as long as the information you provide is based on your personal recollections, impressions, and/or personal memory aids (for example, notes available only to you). If, however, you intend to comment on the student's specific grades or other matters of record, you should have the student's consent to your disclosure of that information. Students can provide this consent by using the WebAdvisor link "Student Information Releases (FERPA)".

5. What if I receive a call from parents who want to know how their child has been performing at work or in the classroom and ask if I've noticed any recent changes in the student's behavior?

As long as the information you provide is based on your personal recollections, impressions, and memories of experiences with the student, disclosing this information without a written consent from the student is acceptable. However, the best course of action may simply be to refer the parent to the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students or to the Office of the University Registrar.

6. What if an individual claiming to be doing a background check visits our office and asks about a former work-study student who has since graduated?

Consult the Protocol on Receipt of Official Legal Documents, Site Visits and Other Contacts From Investigatory or Regulatory Authorities and Attorneys (see http://go.wlu.edu/OGC/ReceiptOfLegalDocs) and the accompanying summary document. If you need immediate help, call the Office of General Counsel at x8940 or Public Safety at x8999.

For additional questions or guidance on the applicability of FERPA, please contact the Office of General Counsel at x8940 or the Office of the University Registrar at x8455.

August 2015