FERPA guidelines protect students’ grades, right to privacy

Caitlyn Massy | Collegian Sammie Shamburg, freshman in psychology, fills out a FERPA form in her room on Tuesday.

With back-to-school mania starting to slow down for most students, for the first time in the semester, some may find themselves concerned about what their grades look like.

Some students, believing that their grades are lower than they should be, will engage in discussions with their professors. So how should a student converse with a professor about a current grade within a class or a specific grade on a test? Call or email their professor, right? That depends.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has a restriction stating that a professor cannot speak about a student’s grade via a phone call; they must meet in person. Though FERPA does not specifically state that emailing about grades is restricted, it is not advised because it is not considered a secure means of communication. Professors are also prohibited from sharing students’ grades with anyone except the student, without permission.

“We have a policy, and we do not discuss grades with anyone, even parents of students,” Carrie Fink, academic records manager at K-State, said.

According to the FERPA guidelines for faculty and staff, “information from student educational records, including grades, grade point averages, and letters of recommendation should not be shared by phone or correspondence with parents or other parties outside the institution, without written permission from the student.”

If a student decided that they wanted to allow a professor to discuss grades via a phone conversation, they would have to complete a Consent to Disclose Educational Records form. This can be potentially beneficial to students who primarily take online courses and would not see their professors on a daily basis.

“Within the past year, we decided to have these forms completed with a notary’s signature,” Fink said. Though this is not a federally mandated qualification, Fink said the university chose to do this to protect students because the form could be completed, signed and submitted by someone close to the student who knew the information without the student ever being aware that access to their information had been opened to another individual. Fink said that the college is continually educating others on FERPA guidelines and strengthening their standards to better serve students.

All faculty, staff and student employees that access student data are required to have understanding of FERPA’s policies. There is a self-assessment online that includes real-life situations dealing with such privacy issues, and once an individual completes the assessment it is recorded in their Human Resource Training Summary.

Email correspondence is not specifically mentioned in FERPA guidelines; however, the registrar’s consent form for disclosure specifically states that users of electronic mail need to be aware that the information passed is vulnerable to unauthorized third parties.

“I feel anyone hacking my email will not care what my grades are,” Andrew Bayless, freshman in fine arts, said. “They are just grades, and if you are not failing it should not be a big deal.”

FERPA has relatively broad guidelines, which leads universities and departments to implement their own policies that extend past what is federally mandated.

“Non-disclosure policies are in place to protect students,” Fink said.