Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for Faculty and Staff

What is FERPA?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of student education records. FERPA also protects students' right to inspect and review their record, request corrections, and limit access to their education record (US Department of Education). 

General FERPA Information

Who is protected under FERPA?

FERPA protects all current and former students (including those under the age of 18) who are attending, or did attend, a post-secondary institution that receives certain kinds of federal funding (US Department of Education). FERPA protects all current and former Fort Lewis College students of any classification (i.e. undergraduate, graduate, postbaccalaureate, and unclassified). It does not protect the records of deceased students or prospective students who applied but never attended. Records, such as application materials, are not considered protected education records until a student is officially "attending" FLC, which begins on the day the student registers for classes. 

Education Records

What is an "education record"?

FERPA defines "education records" as those records that are:

  1. "Directly related to a student; and 
  2. Maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution" (FERPA §99.3).

FERPA does not require that a college keep all student records. Determinations regarding which records to maintain are made by Fort Lewis College in accordance institutional policy and state and federal regulations.

What is NOT considered an "education record"?

As listed in §99.3 of FERPA, the following are NOT considered education records:

  • "Records that are kept in the sole possession of the maker, are used only as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record.
  • Records of the law enforcement unit of an educational agency or institution, subject to the provisions of §99.8.
  • Records relating to an individual who is employed by an educational agency or institution, that:
    • Are made and maintained in the normal course of business;
    • Relate exclusively to the individual in that individual's capacity as an employee; and
    • Are not available for use for any other purpose.
  • Records on a student who is 18 years of age or older, or is attending an institution of postsecondary education, that are:
    • Made or maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional acting in his or her professional capacity or assisting in a paraprofessional capacity;
    • Made, maintained, or used only in connection with treatment of the student; and
    • Disclosed only to individuals providing the treatment. For the purpose of this definition, 'treatment' does not include remedial educational activities or activities that are part of the program of instruction at the agency or institution.
  • Records created or received by an educational agency or institution after an individual is no longer a student in attendance and that are not directly related to the individual's attendance as a student.
  • Grades on peer-graded papers before they are collected and recorded by a teacher."

Students' Rights Under FERPA

FERPA establishes a student's right to access and request amendments to their education record, and to file a complaint with the Department of Education if they feel that their FERPA rights have been violated.

ACCESS: A student has the right to inspect and review their education records within three days of the day the College receives their request for access. The student needs to submit a written request that identifies the record(s) they wish to inspect to Skyhawk Station, the Registrar's Office, a dean, the head of an academic department, or other appropriate official. The College official will make arrangements for access and notify the student of the time and place where the records may be inspected. If the College official to whom the request was submitted does not maintain the records, that official shall advise the student of the correct official to whom the request should be made.

AMENDMENTS/CORRECTIONS: A student has the right to request an amendment to, or correction of, their education records if the student believes that record to be inaccurate or misleading. To initiate this process, the student needs to submit a written request to the College official responsible for the record, in which they clearly identify the part of the record they want changed, and specify why it is inaccurate or misleading. If the College decides not to amend the record as requested by the student, the College will notify the student of the decision and advise the student of their right to a hearing regarding the request for amendment. Additional information regarding the hearing procedures will be provided to the student when notified of the right to a hearing.

FILE A COMPLAINT: If a student believes that Fort Lewis College, or a representative thereof, has violated their rights under FERPA, they may file a complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office of the US Department of Education. For details on that process, please see the Student Privacy Policy Office's File a Complaint website. 

Disclosure of Education Record Information

Generally, Fort Lewis College is not permitted to disclose a student's personally identifiable information (PII) or education record to anyone other than the student without that student's prior written consent. However, there are exceptions (FERPA §99.31). 

The circumstances under which Fort Lewis College may disclose information from a student's education record without the student's consent include, but may not be limited to, the following: 

  • To a school official with a legitimate educational interest (see definitions below); 
  • To anyone, in response to a request for directory information (see definition below);
  • To anyone who has obtained the student's prior written consent;
  • To a parent or legal guardian who claimed the student as a dependent (defined in the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, Section 152) on their most recent federal income tax return (the parent or legal guardian requesting access must provide a copy of their previous year's federal income tax return to Fort Lewis College as evidence)
  • To parents/legal guardians when their child/dependent under age 21 has violated the alcohol or drug policies of Fort Lewis College;
  • To US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the purpose of reporting F (academic) nonimmigrant visa holder information for the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), as required by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP)
    • In order for an institution to host student visa holders, they are required to report certain information pertaining to F visa holders to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That information is used by the Department of State and the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to monitor participating institutions and students. For more information regarding Fort Lewis College's reporting obligations, please see the SEVP's governing regulations for students and schools (see 8 CFR 214.3(g) Recordkeeping and reporting requirements).
  • To an accrediting organization acting in their accrediting capacity; 
  • To officials at another school in which the student is seeking to enroll;
  • To certain federal, state, and local authorities in connection with an audit or evaluation of state-or federally-supported educational programs;
  • To persons or organizations granting financial aid to the student (does not including any payment made by the student's parent(s) or legal guardian(s); other restrictions apply);
  • Third-party agents acting on behalf of Fort Lewis College (for example: the National Student Clearinghouse);
  • To persons or organizations conducting studies on behalf of Fort Lewis College;
  • To state or federal law enforcement in response to a court order or subpoena (a reasonable attempt to notify the student must be made prior to compliance with the order or subpoena);
  • To appropriate parties in the event of a health or safety emergency, under the conditions described in FERPA §99.36;
  • To recruiters from the US Military who request “Student Recruiting Information” (defined as name, address, telephone listing, age, level of education, and major);
  • To the Internal Revenue Service in compliance with the Taxpayer Relief Act
  • To the Department of Veterans Affairs regarding students receiving VA benefits;
  • To the Attorney General of the United State (or designee) in compliance with an ex parte order under the authority of the USA Patriot Act;
  • To the alleged victim of a crime of violence (including but not limited to sexual offences) in accordance with the victim's right to know the outcome of the alleged perpetrator's disciplinary hearing pertaining to that crime.

School Official

A "school official" is defined as:

  • A person employed by Fort Lewis College in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research, or support staff position;
  • A person appointed to the Board of Trustees;
  • A person employed by, or under contract with, Fort Lewis College to perform a special task, such as an attorney or auditor.

Legitimate Educational Interest

A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official is:

  • Performing a task that is specified in their position description or contract agreement;
  • Performing a task related to a student’s education;
  • Performing a task related to the discipline of a student;
  • Providing a service or benefit relating to a student or a student’s family, such as advising, job placement, financial aid, or housing assistance.

What is NOT a "legitimate educational interest"? 

  • Legitimate educational interest does not presuppose a right to any and all student information. FERPA differentiates between educational interest and personal or private interest (determinations are made on a case-by-case basis). Personal/private interests are NOT legitimate educational interests. Educational interest does not imply authority to disclose information to a third party without the student's written permission, unless that third party is acting on the institution's behalf.

Directory Information

Under FERPA, institutions may, but are not required to, disclose "directory information" pertaining to a student without that student's consent or knowledge. To ensure that students are aware of what information is considered "directory", the College sends out an annual notification reminding them of this policy and providing a list of items considered directory information.  

Students may request confidentiality of their education record, including their directory information, at any time. Please see the next section for details.

At Fort Lewis College, the following is considered "directory information": 

  • Student name*
  • Fort Lewis College e-mail address
  • Address and phone number
  • Hometown (city and state)
  • Major and minor fields of study, concentrations, and certificates
  • Dates of attendance
  • Degree information (including conferral date)
  • College-recognized honors and awards
  • Classification level (e.g. first-year, sophomore, graduate student, postbaccalaureate)
  • Enrollment status (full time, half time, and part time, not credit hours)
  • Participation in officially recognized College activities and sports, including the height and weight of athletes
  • Most recent school attended

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although Fort Lewis College has designated the information listed above as directory information, FLC officials disclose only a limited amount of this information on a routine basis. The College retains the right to refuse disclosure of directory information if it believes such disclosure would be an infringement on student privacy rights, or if disclosure would put the student in danger. 

 

*As outlined in College policy, FLC recognizes that some faculty, staff, and students may prefer to use a first name other than their legal name. The College is committed to making every effort to use preferred first names whenever possible in the course of College business and education. This includes, but it is not limited to, the use of preferred first names in email address, directory listings, recognitions, and any printed materials. Please be aware that, when communicating with a third party about a student, it may be necessary to use their legal name, rather than their preferred name.

 

Confidentiality/Student Record Privacy

Although Fort Lewis College may release directory information, FLC officials disclose only a limited amount of this information on a routine basis. The College retains the right to refuse disclosure of directory information if it believes such disclosure would infringe on student privacy rights, or if disclosure would put the student in danger. 

Students may also make their education record completely confidential at any time, should they so choose, using our Confidentiality/Student Record Privacy Request form. Students can also remove a confidentiality restriction at any time. If a student requests that their record remain confidential:

  • FLC officials will not acknowledge that student's connection to campus or the College in any way. For example, if a third party contacts the Registrar's Office inquiring about a student who has requested confidentiality, Registrar's Office staff will refuse to disclose information of any kind about that student, including the fact that they are (or were) a student at all, degree or enrollment information, contact information, and any and all other information contained in the student's education record. 
  • FLC officials may still communicate information pertaining to the student and their record to other FLC officials when there is a legitimate educational interest. 
  • The student will need to appear in person with a valid photo ID to conduct College business. 
    • If the student is not able to come to campus in person, they can still make changes to their record, ask for the removal of the confidentiality request, and authorize the release of  information to particular people or organization. In order to do any of the above, the student will have to either submit a notarized, written, and signed request on which the notary official verifies the student's identity; or request a video conference with the Registrar during which they can show a valid photo ID to verify their identity. 
  • Please be aware that the student’s record will remain confidential, even after graduation, unless that student reverses their request for confidentiality in writing. Reversal requests must be submitted by the student in person, they must be signed, and the student must be able to verify their identity with a valid photo ID. If it is not possible for the student to appear in person, they can submit their request using the process described in the previous bullet. 
     
  • EXCEPTIONS: There are certain circumstances under which FLC must release information about a student who has requested confidentiality. Those exceptions include: in response to requests from federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies; and, "if the school determines that there is an articulable and significant threat to the health or safety of a student or other individuals and that a third party needs personally identifiable information (PII) from education records to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals" (US Department of Education).
FERPA Information Specifically for Faculty and Staff

Important Things to Avoid for Faculty and Staff

To avoid violating FERPA:

  • Do not publicly post grades using students' names, ID number (or partial ID numbers), Social Security Numbers, photos, or any other personally identifiable information.
  • Do not store students' personally identifiable information on public computers or personal laptops. 
  • Do not publicly link students' names with their ID numbers or any other personally identifiable information.
  • Do not leave graded assignments in a stack for students to sort though (even if the grades are not easily visible).
  • Do not post or circulate class lists that include students' ID numbers or grades. 
  • Do not discuss a student's performance, grades, or education record with anyone but the student, unless you have the student's signed written consent, or there is a legitimate educational interest. 
  • Do not provide anyone with a list of students enrolled in your class for commercial purposes.
  • Do not reveal any information about a student's schedule or help anyone find a student on campus unless that person is a school official. If you receive this kind or request, direct the person inquiring to the Fort Lewis College Police.

Posting Grades

It is a FERPA violation to publicly post grades by student's names or ID numbers without their written consent. Faculty and staff who wish to publicly post grades must either obtain students' written consent or use randomly generated numbers known only to the the instructor and individual students to whom those numbers have been assigned. 

Do not notify students of their grades via postcard.

Fort Lewis College cannot guarantee that email messages will remain confidential. As such, telling students about their grades via email is not recommended. Fort Lewis College would be held responsible in the event that an unauthorized third-party gained access to a student’s educational record sent via email. 

Parental Access to Student Education Records

When a student reaches the age of 18 or begins attending a postsecondary institution, regardless of age, FERPA rights transfer from the parent/legal guardian to the student. Faculty and staff are strictly prohibited from releasing any of a student's education record information to parent(s)/legal guardian(s), unless the student has signed a FERPA release for that person. 

IMPORTANT: Even if a student has signed a FERPA release for their parent/legal guardian or another person, faculty and staff are under no obligation to divulge any information about that student, or even to speak with a parent/legal guardian. A FERPA release grants the College permission to disclose information; it does not imply a right to view or alter records. 

Faculty and staff can see whether or not there is a FERPA waiver on file for a particular student on WebOPUS (see below). Should a parent/legal guardian contact you regarding their student, you must check for this authorization prior to releasing any information. If authorization does not exist, you must not discuss the student with their parent/legal guardian.

To check a student's FERPA release information, follow the steps below: 

  • Log in to WebOPUS
  • Click the "Faculty Services" tab
  • Click "ID Selection"
    • Enter the student's ID number and click "Submit"
  • Click "View Student Information"
    • If the student has signed a FERPA waiver for anyone, that person's information will be listed in the "FERPA Release Details" section of that page

 

 

Letters of Recommendation

You must obtain the student's written consent before disclosing any education record information in a letter of recommendation. This includes grades and GPA. You do not need a student's consent to include information not contained in the student's education record, including personal observations, professional opinion, etc. 

If you do intend to disclose information from a student's education records, you must obtain their written consent that specifies the record(s) to be disclosed, the purpose of the disclosure, and the parties to whom that disclosure will be made. Unless a student waives their right to access that letter in the future, it will become part of the education record, and will thus be available to them. If you do not want your letter to be available to the student, make sure the student includes a statement waiving their right to access the letter in the future. 

Communicating with the Media About a Student

Do not, under any circumstances, discuss a student's education record with the media, even if that record has already been made public. FLC officials are not permitted to publicly discuss a student's education record even if the student has already done so themselves or if that information has been made public through a lawsuit. If you receive an inquiry from the media, contact the Fort Lewis College Public Affairs Officer. 

Additional Resources:

If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact the Registrar's Office by phone at (970) 247-7350 or by email at registrar@fortlewis.edu.