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Release of Student Information

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.

Fundamental Rights

FERPA identifies four fundamental rights of students:

  1. The right to have access to their educational records;
  2. The right, through consent, to specify which third parties may access their records;
  3. The right to challenge/correct information in their records; and
  4. The right to be informed of their privacy rights.

These rights apply to all students, regardless of their age.

Confidential Education Records

Confidential education records generally covered by federal privacy laws and exceptions include:

  • Grades
  • 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.

Counseling and Health Records

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.

Non-confidential Directory Information

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

  • Name
  • Campus Address
  • Local telephone listing
  • E-mail address
  • Photographs
  • 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)

Requesting Directory Information Be Confidential

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.

Rationale for College Policy on Information Sharing

Throughout the College, its staff works from the underlying assumption that our students are in the transition from late adolescence to adulthood. Part of how we foster that transition is by treating students as adults, granting them both the rights and responsibilities which go along with that status. This is manifested in the fact that we communicate directly with them, and not directly with parents, regarding student concerns. Yet while we may not call to inform you of your student’s status, we certainly encourage them to contact you themselves, thereby fostering a sense of trust and mutual responsibility.

The position of the College on the issues of sharing information with parents is rooted in a large body of research on the personal development of traditional college-aged students. Given the caliber of the students who attend Geneseo, this position has been found to be effective in promoting student responsibility in a manner that is consistent with the mission of the College. The College recognizes the magnitude of its responsibility inherent in the education of young adults and in safeguarding the health and well-being of its student body, and strives at all times to fulfill these responsibilities in the best interests of its students and their parents. For more information on records maintained by the College, please refer to the Student Records Policy.

Family Members: Frequently Asked Questions

How can I learn how my student is doing?

The best approach is to ask your student. Communicating with young adults, as you may well know, sometimes isn’t easy. They are not always as forthcoming as we would like. The college years, however, are a period of remarkable growth and maturation. The ability and willingness of students to share information and insights usually grows, especially as they acquire the confidence that comes with assuming greater responsibility for their own lives.

How can I find out about my student’s grades, and will I be notified if my student is put on academic probation, or is subject to academic dismissal?

Information about grades and academic standing is given directly to students. Most parents find out this information by asking their student. Doing so fosters trust and a sense of mutual responsibility. You can, of course, ask your student to keep you routinely informed about his/her academic performance, and you can review their academic records with them through the College’s interactive web service (Knightweb).

I had easy access to my student’s school records before, so why don’t I have the same access to records kept by the College?

Under FERPA, the access rights that parents and legal guardians had in the elementary and secondary school setting are transferred to students, once a student has turned eighteen, or is attending any post-secondary educational institution.

What are the exceptions to FERPA’s coverage?

There is a detailed list of exceptions of the FERPA regulations. Perhaps the most important exception allows - but does not require - “disclosure [of information in the students education records] to the parents of a dependent student, as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986” [part 99.31 (a) (8)]. As a matter of policy, although the above stated IRS exception exists, the College does not grant such parental access to educational records even if you claim your student as a dependent for federal tax purposes, or if you pay the bills.

Will I be informed if my student is treated at Health or Counseling Services?

Health and Counseling Services’ records are subject to even more restrictions than are educational records. Those restrictions extend to the need to keep confidential the identity of students seeking services. There are important reasons for these confidentiality requirements, including the proven therapeutic benefits associated with encouraging students to talk openly and candidly with a physician, psychologist or other health professional without fear that their conversations will be reported to others. Many students, however, welcome their parents’ interest in their physical and mental health and are willing to give consent for treatment providers to communicate with their parents.

What if my student is under 18?

The privacy regulations mandated by FERPA apply to all college students, even those who are not yet 18 years old. Regarding consent for medical or psychological treatment, while the need to maintain confidentiality is still very important, students who are under 18 must have parental consent for treatment.

The exception to this requirement is in the case of an emergency or if there is a compelling reason why seeking parental consent would be detrimental.

Will I be notified if my student is hurt or in danger?

In the event of a potentially life-threatening emergency FERPA does allow parents or guardians to be notified without prior consent from the student. In those rare events the Dean of Students will make every reasonable effort to notify parents about the situation. Most situations, however, don’t constitute an imminently life-threatening danger and parents would not be contacted without the student’s permission.

I’ve heard about changes in FERPA allowing notice to the public if a student commits a crime of violence, and allowing notice to parents when a student violates drug or alcohol laws. What is the College’s position on these provisions?

These changes in FERPA allow, but do not require, releases of final results of campus conduct proceedings regarding specified crimes of violence or non-forcible sex offenses, and disclosures to parents of “the student’s violation of any federal, state, or local law, or any policy of the institution, governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance” if certain conditions apply.

At the present time SUNY Geneseo, in keeping with our philosophy, has decided not to make public the identities of individuals suspended or dismissed for any crime of violence or non-forcible sex offenses specified in the law, nor will it notify parents of students under the age of 21 when the institution determines that the student has committed a conduct violation of Geneseo’s Alcohol and Illicit Drug Policy. In certain situations, however, you may get a phone call from the College if your student is transported to a hospital for an alcohol or drug overdose.

Information for Faculty and Staff

Letters of Recommendation

FERPA’s prohibition of the disclosure of personally identifiable information from an education record of a student applies to any kind of non-directory information (e.g., performance in class, grades, attitude, motivation, abilities, background) conveyed in writing, in person, or over the telephone or e-mail to third parties. Although such information is usually conveyed by faculty members (e.g., in letters of recommendation) at the informal request of the student and is usually positive, the better practice would be to request a written consent from the student, meeting the FERPA requirements, before providing the information.

Letters of recommendation following FERPA guidelines often have forms accompanying them that indicate whether or not the student is waiving his/her right of access to your letter. While the institution cannot require students to sign such a waiver, you may decline to write a letter without it. Be aware, this waiver is not the equivalent of permission to write the letter in the first place. The waiver of right to access indicates whether or not your letter is “confidential” even to the student. It is the written consent that gives you permission to share information from the student’s educational records with a third party, regardless of whether it is confidential to/from the student.

Inspection of Education Records

FERPA permits a student the right to inspect her or his educational record by writing to the individual responsible for keeping the record (see College Records Policy). The written request should identify as precisely as possible the record or records she/he wishes to inspect. An appointment must be made for the student within 45 days of the request. Test papers and final examinations are part of a student’s educational record and subject to the regulations of the policy. Disclosure of records does not usually require giving copies of records.

Private Personal Records

FERPA excludes from students’ education records “records of instructional, supervisory, and administrative personnel and educational personnel ancillary to those persons that are kept in the sole possession of the maker of the record, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record.” This means that private and personal records (such as your personal notes) defined in this exception are not subject to examination by students under FERPA.

E-mail

E-mail messages, if they contain information directly related to a student, would be included within the definition of “education records.” For example, if you sent an e-mail message to another faculty member outlining your concerns about John Jones' performance in your class and questioning whether Jones had the necessary intellectual skills to succeed in your program, that message would be considered part of Jones’ “education record” to which Jones would have a right of access.

Counseling and Health Records

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:

  • Ethical and 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.
  • 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.
  • Legal Mandates - 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.
FERPA Danger Zones for Faculty & Staff
  • DO NOT give out directory information about a student who has requested confidentiality.
  • DO NOT post grades or return graded work in ways that connect confidential information to “personally identifiable” information (e.g., leaving stacks of papers outside your office for students to pick up).
  • DO NOT re-disclose confidential information without authorization (i.e., sharing confidential information that was disclosed to you with someone, including a colleague, who does not have a legitimate educational interest or who was not authorized by the student).
  • DO NOT disclose records to parents, employers, or other students without permission.
  • DO NOT include personally identifiable information about student “A” in student “B’s” record without student “A’s” permission.
  • DO NOT provide protected information over the telephone or by email unless you are certain you are communicating with another Geneseo College official or the student her/himself.

DO encourage students to make written requests giving consent for letters of recommendation.

Have Additional Questions?

For more information on records maintained by the College, please refer to the Student Records Policy.

For additional information on FERPA or for assistance in determining if you have a “legitimate educational interest,” contact the Dean of Students at 585-245-5706, or visit the Department of Education's student privacy website.

*Portions of this page were taken from the Synfax Weekly Report, July 2, 2001, pp. 2021-2023 and Marshall University Judicial Affairs’ Student Records and Students’ Rights: An At-a-Glance Guide to Federal and University Policy, and Synthesis: Law and Policy in Higher Education. (Fall 2001)