This article is a primer on how to be generally FERPA-compliant in the classroom, Canvas, and record-keeping practices, intended for teaching faculty. It is not a complete explanation of FERPA, and it is not for administrators, deans, student life professionals, tutors, etc. It does not cover every possible situation faculty may encounter. If you have questions about how FERPA applies to a specific situation in your teaching, please consult your division dean and/or the Registrar’s Office.
FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, is a federal law that governs the sharing of educational information. FERPA’s purpose is to make sure that college students and alumni, as well as the families of K-12 students, have access to their educational records and the ability to verify their accuracy. It also supports the privacy of students by restricting how student information (including names, enrollments, grades, and disciplinary information) can be shared. Once a student is in college, regardless of age, they become what FERPA calls an “eligible student,” and assume the rights to their records in place of their parents.
As a faculty member, you have certain responsibilities for maintaining FERPA compliance in your courses. These include:
- Maintaining accurate records, knowing that students do have rights to their educational information
- Refraining from disclosing who is in your class(es) to other students or people outside of Champlain College
- Refraining from discussing student enrollment or performance with anyone other than the student or Champlain employees who have a compelling educational need to know, including the student’s parent(s) unless the student has provided written approval to the College
- Avoiding situations where students may see other students’ grades or graded work
- Setting up any joined, multi-section Canvas courses so that students interact only with people in their section
These are the most common areas where FERPA might accidentally be violated, but may not cover every situation you encounter. Below, we discuss these situations in more detail.
Personally Identifying Information
Personally identifying information (PII) is FERPA’s main concern. This includes names, addresses, email addresses, student ID numbers, social security numbers, and other personal data. There are many FERPA rules about PII, including what can be disclosed publicly, in a student directory, for accreditation and evaluation purposes, and more. What you need to know:
- Generally avoid disclosing PII to anyone who does not have a good, common-sense reason to know it. For example, students will obviously know the names of other students who are in the classroom with them, and that’s fine. It’s fine for them to have each other’s email addresses. They should not know the names or contact information of people in other sections. If in doubt, do not disclose.
- It is fine to keep copies of PII like class rosters or notes for your own personal use. Students do not have a right to see your personal notes.
- It is fine to use PII if you are discussing a student with a colleague who needs to know that information (a dean, SMART Space tutor, advisor, etc.), or for college reporting purposes like making a SCART referral or a bias report.
- If you teach multiple sections of the same course and you “join” sections into a single Canvas shell, take steps to ensure that students cannot see or interact with students in other sections.
It is very important that students’ grade records are accurate and private. Under FERPA, students have the right to request their educational records, and to request review and correction of the records if they believe there is an error. They also have the right to privacy when it comes to their grades. As with PII, it is OK to discuss student performance with a Champlain colleague who has a legitimate educational reason to know, like an advisor, dean, or SMART Space tutor. What you need to know:
- Keep up with your grading and make sure it is accurate (including your Canvas gradebook). Double-check all grades before you submit them at the end of the semester to avoid the need to correct grades later.
- We advise keeping records of student work and grades after a course ends. Canvas makes this easy. While FERPA does not encourage students to dispute a grade they don’t like, they can request review of a course grade they believe is inaccurate. In such cases, you will need to be able to verify accuracy.
- Do not discuss students’ grades with other students under any circumstances, or create situations where they can see each other’s grades.
- Do not discuss students’ grades and performance with people outside Champlain College, including parents/guardians, unless you have verified that there is a signed consent form on file with the College naming those people. (See below for more about grades and parents.)
- It is okay to talk in general terms about a student’s performance and ability in cases where the student has asked you to do so. For example, if you provide a job reference for a student, you can discuss the student’s performance and achievements.
Parents/Guardians of College Students and FERPA
If you have children or have worked in K-12 education, you may be familiar with parental rights to educational records. In some schools, parents may be accustomed to seeing students’ grades on demand through a learning management system. Moreover, students may be used to their parent(s) having access to their records. This is because FERPA grants parents the right to see their children’s educational records in K-12 schools.
That is not how FERPA works with college students. Students who are enrolled in college own their college records. The student’s age and dependent status do not matter. By default, parents/guardians have no right to see, discuss, or contest these records. Students can (and often do) sign a consent form that allows their parent(s) or another designee to have access to their educational records. If a signed consent form is on file, PII and grade information can be disclosed to the people named on it. The names of people a student has allowed to receive FERPA-protected information are available in WebAdvisor.
However, a student’s consent to sharing information protected under FERPA merely allows parents to see educational records. It does not require the college to release that information to them. Faculty members can refuse to discuss a student’s performance with their parent(s) or guardian(s). If you are facing a situation where parents want to discuss student performance and you have questions about what to do, consult your dean. Your dean or the college may disclose your student’s official grades to a person they’ve consented to share information with without your involvement.
In summary: never discuss student performance or enrollment information with a parent/guardian without at least verifying that the student has consented to this in writing with the College (not in an email to you). If you wish, you can refuse to discuss student performance with any outside person, regardless of who the student has consented to share information with.
If you believe you may have made a FERPA mistake, it is best to seek support! Champlain would rather help you manage the situation and learn from the error than discover a problem.