What Would You Do?: Case Studies about FERPA compliance
Case Study #1
A parent calls and shares their student is diagnosed with depression and asks that you check on the student and let them know how their child is doing both in class and outside of class. What can you share?
Answer: Not much. You can acknowledge that you know the student and reinforce that UWGB cares for our students. Ask the parent a little bit about why they are concerned at this time for their student. If it is an urgent concern, contact Public Safety. But if not urgent, explain it is outside your scope or abilities to do this type of follow-up on a student and refer the parent to the Dean of Students Office, who coordinates such requests and will reach out if needed to students who are struggling or distressed. If you personally have concerns about the student, as an employee you can also contact the Dean of Students office and report your observations. Such sharing of information to proper internal authorities is allowed under FERPA, and encouraged for the safety and welfare of everyone on campus.
Case Study #2
Faculty member wants to communicate grades to students. They decide to pass the grading sheet amongst the class participants with the student ID number identified and the grade earned from the assignment. Is this appropriate?
Answer: No, student ID numbers are protected by FERPA just as Social Security numbers or date of birth. Student ID numbers are personably identifiable to the student and if another student in the course was knowledgeable of a fellow classmates ID number they would quickly be able to determine the grades earned by another student. Both the grade and the ID number should not be disclosed without specific permission of the student.
Permission would have to be granted by all students in writing to the faculty member to release grades via this method. If a student was uncomfortable granting permission to obtain grades in this manner they have the right under FERPA to not comply with the request to do so.
A faculty member should find a differing method to individually release the grade earned directly to the student rather than pass around a grade roster. A suggestion would be to communicate grading outcomes using the D2L grade feature or individually email the student UWGB email account.
Case Study #3
A parent calls and wants to know why you, or your department staff, is treating their student unfairly, or not following through with your normal operating procedure. You know the student well and have provided assistance several times, but the student does not complete necessary work for you to proceed. What do you tell the parent?
Answer: Ask the parent what their student has told them so far. Confirm what your normal practice would be with regard to the issue and whether or not this is a common concern you deal with. Explain you cannot discuss the details of their student's issue with them at this time, but would be happy to contact the student to get permission to do so, and this contact would also provide you with another opportunity to work out the concern with the student. Make contact with the student and let the student know you have spoken with the parent and what you shared with the parent. If what you heard from the parent was incorrect, confirm details with the student so you and the student are on the same page. Remind the student of their responsibilities regarding the issue, and ask whether or not the student is willing or provide a written release so you can disclose all the facts to their parent if the issue has not been resolved.
Case Study #4
A parent calls and is demanding confirmation of attendance and current grade of a course. You the staff/faculty member have access to this information but are not sure how to handle this situation.
Answer: If enrollment or grades earned is not within your normal job duties you can decline such a request with the explanation that you do not unofficially/officially confirm such details about a student. You can explain under FERPA certain directory information can be released without a student's consent, grades and attendance records are not considered directory information.
If the student has a final grade for the course, you can suggest asking the student to print their unofficial transcript from the Student Information System (SIS) to give to the parent; or suggest their student place order an unofficial or official transcript.
Students can request an enrollment verification using their SIS account. The National Student Clearinghouse is the authorized provider of official enrollment or degree verifications at www.studentclearinghouse.org.
If there are further questions about these topics please refer to the Registrar's office at (920) 465-2657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Case Study #5
One of your student employees shares they are not getting along with their roommate. When you ask what the issue is the student describes how the roommate is always having guests over to their room, and frequently has guests stay overnight on both weeknights and weekends. Your student has seen the guests drinking alcohol and is afraid if the roommate gets caught, she will be in trouble too. But the student is afraid to say something for fear her roommate will get mad at her. What can you share?
Answer: Nothing your student is telling you is part of an education record at this time. If the student provides the name of their roommate, or the room she lives in on campus, you would not share this with a co-worker in your office, but you can share this information with Residence Life or the Dean of Students office, as they have responsibilities in this area. Ask the student if it would be OK for you to alert a staff member in one of those areas who may be able to help them, or offer to get contact information for a staff member and provide it to the student so they can make the first move themselves. Sharing such information about a student is reasonable as long as it is only shared with parties who would have a demonstrated need to know.
Case Study #6
A person comes to your location stating there is an emergency and they need to know the building/room their student is located in for class. Do you tell them their schedule and building/room location?
Answer: No. First ask for details about why the student needs to be located and what they have done to attempt to reach the student (i.e. phone, text, email). If the student needs to be located immediately it is best to hold them at your location and call the Dean of Students office during business hours and Public Safety at other times to locate the student. Not knowing if the scenario is legitimate between the party and the student (Example: the student has a restraining order against a person looking for them.) it is better to have the Dean of Students staff or Public Safety sort out the action taken. Ask the party for their name; ask them to wait and step away to contact the proper office to make contact with the student. A staff member will then talk with student and relay the request to the student, who can decide if they will accompany them back to the location of the requestor.
Case Study #7
A student comes to you and asked if she can talk to you in confidence. She shares that she is uncomfortable being in the same room with another male student you know because they had sexual contact recently, but the contact was unwanted. As she describes more about what happened, you realize it was a form of sexual assault. What do you do?
Answer: Thank the student for sharing this difficult experience with you. Ask if she is OK, or is in need of any medical attention. Share with her there are resources to support her on campus through the Counseling and Health Center, the Dean of Students office or Green Bay Sexual Assault Center as well. Explain while this is a very private matter, you are required by federal law as a university employee to make an anonymous report to the Dean of Students Office. The information is only used to report statistics regarding university security. FERPA has provisions which allow employees to share such sensitive data internally to allow for compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The actual sexual assault reporting form is available in the Dean of Student Office (2000 Student Services).
Case Study #8
A graduate student contacts you asking for information about the names and contact information of students with the highest level of need for financial aid who are enrolled at the institution. They are conducting a research project for their graduate course to determine graduation rates, course completion rates, success of students who come from the lowest income families. Do you send over the information to the student?
Answer: No, although name and email information is considered directory information, the data requested involves having knowledge of a student's family income level and academic transcript information. An in depth review of the information sought would need to be conducted to determine the outcome expected from this research; to whom the information will be shared; how and what information will be shared, etc.
Anytime a student/staff member is considering a research project a first place to start would be to determine if Institutional Review Board approval is needed. The purpose of the IRB is to protect the rights and welfare of human research participants. For more information please go to the Institutional Review Board web page.
If the projects falls outside the parameters of the IRB and a data request is made with a particular office a review will be made to determine what can be released to the requestor or denied based on the rights of a student to protect their personally identifiable information.
In many cases, information is provided for analysis with the personally identifiable data removed. In some cases requests are denied based on protection of academic record information and compliance with FERPA regulations.