Introduction:

Generally, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits Elon from disclosing student education records (or information from student records) to anyone other than the student to whom the records pertain, unless Elon has the student’s consent or an exception applies.

Educational records are not limited to academic records and include all records that are directly related to a student and maintained by Elon. This includes grades, transcripts, attendance records and all other records in any format that contain personally identifiable information – such as schedules, accounts, financial aid records, and emails.

While it is best to assume that all records concerning students are covered by FERPA, there are exceptions which allow Elon to disclose certain records, even though they contain student educational records. We have highlighted four of these exceptions below that may be relevant when working students.

 

Parent Access to Student Information:

In primary and secondary educational institutions (i.e. K-12), all FERPA rights belong to the parent. However, when the student reaches the age of 18 or begins to attend a post-secondary institution regardless of age, all FERPA rights transfer to the student.  Educational records should never be shared with any third party (including parents) if a FERPA release is not in place.

 

Exceptions That Allow Disclosure of Student Information:

While it is best to assume that all records concerning students are covered by FERPA, there are exceptions which allow Elon to disclose certain records, even though they contain student educational records.

  1. Disclosing with Permission from the Student:  Educational records may be shared when a student has given written permission to do so.  In most cases, this takes the form of a “FERPA Release” which is available on Elon’s Registrar website.  A release can be limited to allow disclosure only for certain records or under certain circumstances.
  2. Disclosing with University Officials with a Legitimate Educational Interest: The exception most used to conduct normal university functions is the “legitimate educational interest exception.” Under this exception, student educational records can be disclosed to “school officials . . . whom the . . . institution has determined to have legitimate educational interests” – meaning they need this information to adequately perform their job functions and duties.  Staff in Student Care and Outreach generally have a “need to know basis” for any educational records relating to students brought to their attention or when they are managing their cases. Thus, any records relating to to that student (including performance, attendance, behavior in class, etc.) can and (likely) should be disclosed.
  3. Disclosing Information During a Health and Safety Emergency:  Disclosures are permitted, without the student’s consent, if necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals. Disclosures must be made “in connection with an emergency,” which means it must be related to an actual or imminent emergency such as when a student is injured or is a threat to others. There must be an “articulable and significant threat” defined by law enforcement, medical professionals, or the university’s Behavioral Intervention Team. This exception is limited to the time period of the emergency and does not allow for a blanket release of personally identifiable information. Typically law enforcement, public health officials, trained medical personnel and parents are the types of appropriate persons to whom information may be disclosed.
  4. Personal Knowledge and Observations: FERPA does NOT prohibit a school official from disclosing information about a student that is obtained through personal knowledge or observation. For example, if a professor overhears a student making concerning remarks to others, FERPA does not protect that information from disclosure. However, this does not apply where a school official learns of information about a student after reviewing or reading an education record.

Using Email as a Form of Communication:

Some faculty have questions about whether email is an appropriate form of communication with staff in Student Care and Outreach. Email is considered a regular mode for conducting university business and is appropriate for purposes of sharing concerns or sharing information related to a student.  Of course, any faculty may choose to submit or share information over the phone or in person as they choose. While email is an acceptable form of communication, it is not required.

 

Where to Learn More: 

Learn more about Elon’s policy related to FERPA on the policies website. Learn more about other exceptions to FERPA and access the FERPA release on the Registrar’s website.