The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
Federal legislation (FERPA) has established guidelines governing the way in which colleges maintain and supervise students’ educational records. The legislation seeks to guarantee that these files are used only for legitimate educational purposes and are not released outside the College without the permission of the student. The College’s Student Privacy Rights Policies are detailed in the Code of Community Standards.
“Education records” are records maintained by the College that are directly related to students. These include biographical and demographic data, application materials, course schedules, grades and work-study records.
As faculty members, you should know that a student’s “educational record” does not include:
- Information contained in your private files used only as a personal memory aid and not accessible or revealed to any other person.
When communicating information about a student, the best guide regarding appropriate communication is whether the person with whom you are communicating the information has an “educational interest” or need to know. If the person does not, then you should not share the information. For example, if you are concerned about the health or well-being of a student, it is absolutely appropriate to contact the student’s dean, advisor, member of the Center for Learning and Teaching, or the student’s coach (at Bowdoin, we expect coaches to promote the academic success of their student athletes). However, if you are concerned about a case of academic dishonesty in your class, it would not be appropriate to share the student’s name with a faculty colleague but you could certainly seek advice and discuss the case without revealing the student’s name.
Please be especially careful in your handling of grades. Grades should only be accessible to the student, the staff in the Registrar’s Office, and the student’s advisor, dean, and coach, if relevant. Note: Coaches do receive grade information for their student athletes at the end of each semester.
Conversely, a student’s dean will provide information about a student to you if you have an educational interest. The Dean will not give you all the specific details unless it is necessary or the student has given permission. For example, the Office of the Dean of Students will inform you that a student in your course has taken a Medical Leave of Absence but the student’s dean will not tell you medical details unless the student has given the dean permission to share that information with you.
Health and Counseling appreciate hearing your concerns about your students and will listen to all you have to say, but by law (HIPAA) they cannot share medical information about a student without her/his permission.
Communicating with a Student’s Parents or Guardians
It would not be uncommon for a parent to call you to discuss their student. Do not hesitate to direct those calls to the student’s dean. Deans are often the designated resource for parent or guardian communication. Similarly, if a parent contacts you to advocate on behalf their student, perhaps about getting into a course or contesting a grade, it is best to encourage the parent to have the student reach out directly. Our goal is to have students advocate for themselves, although we recognize that there may be times when they may be unable to do so.
Specific policies regarding communication with parents or guardians:
Consistent with Bowdoin’s efforts to promote each student’s personal growth and autonomy, and to preserve a climate of trust with them, the College will not release any information contained within a student’s educational record to parents without the student’s consent. However, when appropriate and as allowed by FERPA, the College does permit the release of certain information of dependent students (as defined by the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, Section 152) to parents without the student’s consent. The specific instances in which Bowdoin will and will not notify parents warrant particular attention.
Note: The College reserves the right to notify a parent or guardian of their student’s status in situations not specifically listed below if the circumstances warrant and if it is in the best interest of the student and the College community.
Notice of a Student’s Academic Standing
The College believes that each student is ultimately responsible for their academic progress and performance. Therefore, Bowdoin communicates only with students regarding their academic performance. For instance, in an effort to foster students’ sense of responsibility for their academic endeavors, grades, comment cards, and failure cards are sent directly to students and are not released to parents or guardians unless a student specifically requests in writing to the Office of the Registrar that they be released. While students are encouraged to share information regarding their academic progress with their parents, Bowdoin does not mandate it.
Academically, however, there are instances when the College will typically notify parents of a student’s academic performance. Parents will be notified of a student’s academic standing regardless of consent when there is a change of status, i.e., when a student is placed on academic probation, when a student is academically suspended, or if a student is academically dismissed from Bowdoin. In these cases, copies of correspondence with the student that outline the student’s academic standing will be sent to the student’s parents or guardian.
Notice of a Student’s Disciplinary/Conduct Standing
During a student’s tenure at Bowdoin, the College expects each student to take responsibility for his or her actions. Upon arrival at Bowdoin, each student reads and signs the Academic Honor Code and Social Code that serve as a standard and guide for students’ behavior. Signing the pledge implies a student’s commitment to uphold the principles and rules outlined in the Codes.
Since the Codes are meant to preserve the integrity and safety of the Bowdoin community, violations of either Code warrant a College response. Generally, the College will communicate any disciplinary response to a Code violation directly with the student, and parents or guardians will not be notified, unless the student chooses to inform his or her parents. However, if the College response results in a change in the student’s status (i.e., dismissal, suspension, probation, and in some cases, reprimand), copies of correspondence with the student that detail the resolution of the situation will be sent to the student’s parents or guardian. Likewise, Bowdoin reserves the right to inform the parents of any student if the student violates any Federal, State, or local law, or campus regulation governing the use or possession of alcohol or drugs.
Notice of a Student’s Health/Welfare Standing
Information regarding a student’s health and/or psychological welfare is protected by strict policies instituted to ensure the student’s confidentiality. While students are encouraged to share information regarding their health and/or psychological welfare with their parents, without students’ informed consent (typically in writing), the College cannot share this type of information with their parents or guardian.
Bowdoin recognizes, however, that situations arise in which a student may be unable to give informed consent (e.g., accident or alcohol poisoning leading to unconsciousness, psychotic episode, etc.) If a student is transported to the hospital in a critical situation, the parent or guardian of the student will be notified. Where possible, the College will allow the individual student time to make direct notification to parent or guardian or explicitly identify a third party to make contact with the parent or guardian. In such instances when a student is being treated by an external healthcare provider, the College expects the external provider to determine the appropriateness of parental notification and undertake such notification when deemed appropriate. Having the external provider directly notify the parents ensures that parents receive the most informed and precise information regarding their child’s well-being. In these cases, a representative of the College is always available for further follow-up by way of the on-call system accessible through the Office of Safety and Security.
Likewise, if a student is deemed a threat to him or herself or to others, the College may decide to notify parents without the consent of the student. The College may also contact a parent or guardian if it comes to the attention of school officials that a student has been inexplicably absent from campus for a prolonged period of time.