With some exceptions, FERPA prohibits instructors from disclosing academic information about a student contained in “educational records” (either deliberately or inadvertently) without his or her written consent. FERPA also prohibits instructors from gaining access to information about a student unless the instructor has a “legitimate educational interest” in doing so. Best practices include the following:
- Never post grades in hallways or elsewhere using student names or ID numbers such as SSN or 790 numbers.
- Never notify a student of their grades via e-mail – even to an official UM student account. Notification of grades via e-mail is an explicit violation of FERPA as there is no guarantee of confidentiality on the Internet.
- Instructors should not pass a stack of graded papers/tests around in class with the idea that each student will retrieve his or her individual paper/test. This enables students to see academic information relating to other students. Although it is more time-consuming, best practice requires calling out the names of each student individually and handing the paper/test directly to the student.
- Do not leave stacks of graded papers/tests in hallways or offices with the idea that each student will rifle through them until his or her individual paper/test is located.
- Don’t reply to an email from a student unless it is from an official UM student account. Otherwise you cannot be certain to whom you are replying.
- Never say anything in an email to a third party (other than another authorized institution) about a student’s academic performance that you would not want to share with the student; an email of this kind is an “educational record” and the student has a right to see it unless he or she has waived this right.
- Don’t seek academic information about a student (e.g., student transcript information) without his or her written consent unless you are prepared to demonstrate that you have a “legitimate educational interest” in doing so, e.g., for academic advising purposes.
- Perhaps surprisingly, you cannot provide academic information to parents, even if the student is listed as a dependent on the parent’s tax forms, without the student’s signed consent. (Apparently FERPA allows disclosure in the case of dependent students but Montana law does not). A student can provide written consent to disclose information to parents by filling out a form found on the Registrar’s web site.
- One should not mention GPAs, even in an awards ceremony, at least without written consent; doing so may invite embarrassing comparisons and be seen as inappropriate disclosure.
- Of course, you can disclose academic information about a student in letters of recommendation sent to other educational institutions. However, the student has a right to inspect and review the letter you sent to another educational institution after matriculating at that institution unless the student has waived his or her right to see it.
- FERPA allows students to prohibit disclosure of all personal information including what is typically called “directory information”: enrollment at UM; address, email, phone, birth date, and honors/awards, etc. A form is posted on the Registrar’s webpage by which students can request “confidentiality”. It is the faculty member’s/department’s responsibility to check the Cyberbear rosters to determine whether the word “confidentiality” appears by a student’s name and, if so, to release no information without signed consent. [Department’s may wish to add a line to scholarship applications saying “student agrees/does not agree to release his/her name if he/she receives an award.”]
- If you have reason to believe that a student may pose a threat of significant harm to self or others, you can and should disclose relevant information to the proper authorities. Unless immediate action is required, submit a referral form to the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT).