The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is a federal law which is designed to protect the privacy of and limit access to the educational records of students. In essence, FERPA is civil rights legislation for college students. FERPA identifies four fundamental rights of students:
- the right to have access to their educational records;
- the right, through consent, to specify which third parties may access their records;
- the right to challenge/correct information in their records; and
- the right to be informed of their privacy rights.
These rights apply to all students, regardless of their age.
Confidential education records generally covered by federal privacy laws and exceptions include:
- Test scores
- I.D. numbers or social security numbers
- Financial records
- Date and place of birth
- Class schedules
- Semester, cumulative, or major GPA
- Housing information
- Conduct records (or results of reviews)
- Enrollment Status
- Class attendance information
These records, maintained by SUNY Geneseo or any agent of the College, include any document or information directly related to a student.
FERPA, then, mandates that institutions generally must withhold such information from parents and others, even if they believe that their relationship with the student entitles them to have the information. As a result, we sometimes encounter frustrated parents, guardians, or spouses (or even faculty members who do not have “an educational need to know” as defined by federal law) who question why they cannot have information about a student’s grades, financial obligations, or standing within the College.
To help prevent the frustration caused by this law, on an issue-by-issue basis, the College is pleased to share this information from educational records if a signed, dated written release is submitted by a student to the College verifying that specific information from the student’s educational record be released to a designated individual; there are no blanket waivers. Without such a signed release, the College will not make exceptions to FERPA.
Excluded from classification as “educational records” under FERPA are medical and psychological records. Mandates beyond FERPA (such as licensing laws and federal legislation regarding patients’ rights) require that a higher level of privacy be applied to Health and Counseling Services’ records. These areas must maintain strict confidentiality of all information (including identity) related to students who are utilizing those services.
There are several reasons for these tighter restrictions on Health and Counseling Services’ records:
- Practical Considerations - Students will not utilize the full range of services available – particularly in areas such as counseling, sexual health and substance use – if they believe that others will be told that they received these services.
- Ethical & Licensing Standards - Health and Counseling Services staff members are bound by the ethical standards which apply to the provision of college health and counseling, as well as standards of the applicable licensing boards and professional associations to which they belong. Each of these states unequivocally that, with certain specific exceptions, strict confidentiality is to be maintained of all information related to an individual’s medical/psychological treatment. In cases where confidentiality must be broken (e.g., imminent danger to self or others) information may only be released to those individuals who would be directly involved with securing or providing treatment – hospital personnel, emergency service workers, etc.
- Legal Mandates - Finally, from the age of 18 individuals have the legal authority to consent to their own medical and psychological treatment. According to state and federal laws, treatment providers are mandated to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of all consenting patients. To release information without specific consent is a violation of the law. The potential consequences to the provider and agency engaging in such action include civil penalties and loss of license to practice.
There is certain non-confidential directory information that under FERPA can be released without a student’s permission. At Geneseo, this non-confidential directory information includes
- Campus Address
- Local telephone listing
- E-mail address
- Major field of study
- Dates of attendance
- Participation in officially recognized activities
- Degrees, honors, and awards
- Most recent educational institution attended
- Weight and height (student athletes)
This information that the College has identified as directory information and that it may release without a student’s explicit permission can also be made confidential at a student’s request. For students to do so, they must put their request in writing to the Dean of Students before the first Friday of each semester. Additionally, the College can refuse to release such information if a request seems improper, e.g., for commercial exploitation.