Student Confidentiality and FERPA
Generally, FERPA prohibits NC State from disclosing student education records (or information from student records) to anyone other than the student to whom the records pertain unless NC State has the student’s consent or an exception applies.
Education records are not limited to academic records but records that are directly related to a student and maintained by NC State. This includes grades, transcripts, and exams and includes 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 NC State to disclose certain records, even though they contain personally identifiable information. We have highlighted two of these exceptions below that may be relevant when working students of concern:
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.
General counsel at NC State has determined that the case manager has a “need to know basis” about any educational records relating to students brought to their attention or when they are managing their cases. Thus, any records relating to that student (including performance, attendance, behavior in class, etc.) can and (likely) should be disclosed.
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 Assessment 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.
Using Email as a Form of Communication
Some faculty have questioned whether email is an appropriate form of communication with the case manager. General Counsel has advised that an email is a regular form of 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.
Personal Knowledge and Observations
FERPA does NOT prohibit school officials from disclosing information about a student that is obtained through personal knowledge or observation. For example, if a professor overhears a student making threatening remarks to others, FERPA does not protect that information from disclosure. However, this does not apply where a school official personally learns of information about a student after reviewing or reading an education record.