Student Privacy Rights Policies

THE FAMILY EDUCATION RIGHTS AND PRIVACY ACT 

Bowdoin complies with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), under which each student has the right to:

  • inspect and review their education records within 45 days of the day the College receives a request for access;
  • request an amendment to their education records if the student believes they are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the student’s privacy rights under FERPA;
  • consent to disclosure of personally identifiable information from their education records; except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without the student’s consent; file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Family Policy Compliance Office if the student believes their rights under FERPA have been violated.

1. Inspection

What are education records?

Education records are records maintained by the College, or by a party acting for the College that are directly related to a student.

Such records may include:

  • Written documents;
  • Electronic files;
  • Video or audio tapes or CDs;
  • Film or photographs.

Education records that are maintained by the Office of the Dean of Students may be maintained in paper or electronic form.  Examples of records are:   the student’s application for admission to Bowdoin, and a copy of their high school transcript, correspondence between the student and deans or other College administrators, special requests (e.g., leave of absence requests), special funding requests, and records of any academic or disciplinary action taken against the student.   Generally speaking, the education records that are maintained by the Office of the Dean of Students are retained for six years after graduation or permanent separation (resignation, permanent dismissal, matriculation at another institution etc.).  For more information on the time periods for which the College maintains certain documents (not all of which are necessarily education records under FERPA), see the Registrar’s document retention schedule here.

Education records that are maintained by the Office of the Registrar may be maintained in paper or electronic form.  Examples of records are:  transcripts, college entrance examination board scores, transcripts from other colleges or universities attended, records of a student’s status, and records of a student’s academic standing.  Education records maintained by the Office of the Registrar have different retention periods, including some that are permanent.  For more information, see the Registrar’s document retention schedule here.

Students’ education records are also kept in other College offices including, but not limited to, the following:  Athletics, Residential Life, Career Planning Center, Student Aid, the Bursar’s Office, the Office of Communications, the Center for Learning and Teaching, and the Center for Co-Curricular Opportunities. 

What is excluded from the definition of "education record"?

A student's "education record" does not include:

  • Information contained in the private files of instructors and administrators (including deans’ notes), used only as personal notes and not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record;
  • Security reports and other records created and maintained by the Office of Safety and Security for a law enforcement purpose;
  • Employment records other than work-study records;
  • Treatment records made or maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional acting in their  professional capacity and made, maintained, or used only in connection with treatment of the student; (please refer to the section below on the maintenance of Health and Counseling Records);
  • Records created or received by the College after an individual is no longer a student in attendance that are not directly related to the individual’s attendance as a student;
  • Any other records that do not meet the definition of education records as defined by federal law (See 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(4)(B)).

How do I inspect and review my education records?

Students who wish to review an education record should submit to the appropriate official (e.g. dean, department head, registrar) a written request that identifies the specific record(s) they wish to inspect. The custodian of the education record the student wishes to inspect will contact the student to arrange a mutually convenient time for inspection, not more than forty-five days after his/her request. The custodian or designee will be present during his/her inspection.  Copies will be provided only when circumstances effectively prevent the student from exercising their right to inspect the particular education record.

  • In the event the record sought is not maintained by the particular College official to whom the request was submitted, that official shall advise the student of the correct official to whom the request should be addressed.
  • The student will not be permitted to review any records containing information about one or more other students unless such personally identifiable information is “inextricably intertwined” with the student’s record or, if not, can be redacted to remove any identifying information related to another student, financial information of their parents, or confidential letters of recommendation, if the student has waived their right to inspect such letters, or transcripts which originated from an institution other than Bowdoin.

2. Amendment

How do I request amendment of my education record?

  • A student who wishes to ask the College to amend their education record they believe is inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the student’s privacy rights under FERPA should write to the College official responsible for the record (e.g., department head, registrar, director of career planning), clearly identifying the part of the record the student wants changed, and specify why it should be changed. The College will reply to the student within a reasonable time after the student’s request. If the College decides not to amend the record as requested, the College will notify the student in writing of the decision and of the student’s right to a hearing regarding the request for amendment.

 How do I request a hearing?

  • Within 10 days of the date of the College’s decision related to the request for amendment, send a written, signed request for a hearing to the Dean of Students, Bowdoin College, 4600 College Station, Brunswick, ME 04011-8437. The College will schedule a hearing within a reasonable time after receipt of the student’s request, if timely made.

 How will the hearing be conducted?

  • Cases involving disagreements over College records will be heard by the Dean of Student Affairs  or their designee.
  • The student may bring one or more persons to the hearing to assist the student, including an attorney, at the student’s expense. If the student’s attorney will be present, the student must notify the College ten days in advance of the hearing so that the College may arrange to have an attorney present, if desired.  No one that the student brings with them to assist the student during the hearing may participate in the process or make statements or objections or question any participants at any point during the hearing.
  • The College will inform the student of its decision, in writing, including a summary of the evidence presented and the reasons for its decision, within a reasonable time after the hearing.
  • If following the hearing the College decides that the information in the education record is not inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the privacy rights of the student, the student will have the right to place a statement in the record commenting on the contested information in the record or stating why they disagree with the College’s decision not to amend the record, or both.  Any such statements will be released whenever the portion of the record in question is disclosed.

3. Disclosure of education records

What consent is required for disclosure?

Bowdoin generally will not disclose personally identifiable information from a student’s education records without their signed and dated consent made in writing or electronically; however, the College may make authorized disclosures without consent as specified under the law.

When may the College release personally identifiable information without my consent?

Under FERPA, Bowdoin may, at the College’s discretion, release personally identifiable information (PII) from education records without the student’s prior consent in certain specified circumstances, including, but not limited to:

  • Disclosure to school officials with legitimate education interests. “School officials” are Bowdoin College employees in administrative, supervisory, academic, research, or support staff positions (including the Departments of Safety and Security, Health Services, and Counseling Services); Bowdoin College trustees; a student serving on an official committee including but not limited to, the Recording Committee, Judicial Board, or Student Appeals and Grievances Committee; a volunteer or contractor outside of Bowdoin who performs an institutional service or function for which Bowdoin would otherwise use its own employees and who is under the direct control of Bowdoin with respect to the use and maintenance of PII from education records, such as attorneys, auditors, consultants,  and collection agencies. School officials have a “legitimate education interest” if they need to review an education record in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities;
  • Disclosure to organizations involved in awarding financial aid for the purpose of determining eligibility, the amount of, and/or the conditions for the aid, or to enforce the terms and conditions of aid;
  • Disclosure to another educational institution where the student seeks or intends to enroll, or where the student is already enrolled so long as the disclosure is for purposes related to the student’s enrollment or transfer. 
  • Disclosure to parents of students who are dependents for federal tax purposes (as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Service Code). [See Parental Notification practices below];
  • Disclosure to parents or legal guardians of students under twenty-one years of age regarding violations of college drug and alcohol policies;
  • Disclosure to comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena (in most circumstances after making a reasonable effort to notify the student in advance of compliance so that the student can take protective action). An exception to this notification requirement exists if the subpoena is issued by a federal grand jury or for other law enforcement purposes and the requesting court or issuing agency specifically ordered that the existence of the subpoena is not to be disclosed;
  • Disclosure to authorized representatives of the federal government, or state or local educational authorities, of certain information as required by law in connection with an audit of federal- or state-supported education programs or with the enforcement of or compliance with federal legal requirements relating to those programs;
  • Disclosure to accrediting organizations to carry out their functions;
  • Disclosure of relevant information about the student to a court if the student brings an action against the College or if the College brings a court action against the student;
  • Disclosure to appropriate parties in a health or safety emergency, in order to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals; and
  • Disclosure of the final results of a disciplinary proceeding against a student only where the student is determined to have violated a rule or policy in connection with alleged acts that would, if proven, also constitute a crime of violence or non-forcible offense;
  • Disclosure of the final results of a disciplinary proceeding, regardless of the outcome,  to a victim of alleged acts that would, if proven, constitute a crime of violence  or a non-forcible sexual offense;
  • Disclosure concerns sex offenders and consists of information provided to the institution pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

What is directory information?

Certain additional information known as “directory information” may be released without the student’s prior written consent unless the student requests that such directory information be withheld. Directory information is personally identifiable information of a general nature that may be disclosed without a student’s consent because disclosure of the information would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy, unless the student specifically requests that the College not do so.

Directory Information includes the following:

  • the student’s full legal name,
  • the student’s preferred name,
  • local/campus mailing address,
  • local/campus residence,
  • campus telephone number,
  • telephone number (as provided by student),
  • Bowdoin electronic mail address,
  • the student’s photograph,
  • student ID number, user ID, or other unique personal identifier used to communicate in electronic systems that cannot be used to access education records without a PIN, password, etc.  NOTE: (1) a student's SSN, in whole or in part, cannot be used for this purpose; (2) user IDs cannot be completely suppressed from Bowdoin’s electronic systems. Although it may be possible to suppress the association of an individual’s name with their user ID, doing so may adversely impact the delivery of electronic mail or other electronic services.
  • class year,
  • major field(s) of study,
  • dates of attendance at Bowdoin College,
  • enrollment status,
  • date of graduation,
  • degree(s) awarded,
  • honors, prizes, fellowships and/or awards received,
  • date and place of birth,
  • marital status,
  • participation in officially recognized activities and sports,
  • previous education institution most recently attended, and
  • for students participating in intercollegiate athletics, directory information also includes: height, weight, and sport(s) of participation

How do I opt out to prevent disclosure of directory information without my consent?

If the student does not want their directory information to be disclosed, either in the campus electronic directories or otherwise, the student must notify the Registrar, in writing, by the start of the academic year. Notifying the Registrar covers only the disclosure of centralized records. Students who are members of individual organizations (student clubs and organizations, etc.) and wish to opt out of disclosure of directory information should consult with Student Activities.  Student athletes who wish to opt out of disclosure of directory information should consult with the Athletics Department about how to opt out.  A student may rescind their “opt-out request” at any time.

A student may not use an “opt-out request” to prevent Bowdoin from disclosing their name, ID number, or institutional email address in a class in which the student is enrolled.

Upon becoming an alumnus, Bowdoin will continue to honor any valid “opt-out request” made while a student was in attendance, unless the alumnus rescinds the “opt-out request.”

4. Filing Complaints

What is the process for filing a FERPA complaint?

As stated above, if the student believes the College has not complied with FERPA, he/she can file a complaint with the following:

Family Policy Compliance Office
U. S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20202

PARENT/FAMILY NOTIFICATION PRACTICES

As noted above, FERPA regulations and state statutes assign students the right to release information contained in their education records. Specifically, FERPA entrusts this right to students upon enrollment in a postsecondary institution, even when they are under the age of 18. 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 education record to parents without the student’s consent, except in certain circumstances described in this policy. Note that 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.

Common examples when Bowdoin will and will not notify parents of dependent students include:

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. Although students are encouraged to share information regarding their academic progress with their parents, Bowdoin does not mandate it.

However, when there is a change of status, i.e., when a student is placed on academic probation, academic suspension, or academic dismissal from Bowdoin, the College will typically notify parents with or without the student’s consent.  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 their 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 their parents. However, if the College response results in a change in the student’s status (i.e., dismissal, suspension, social probation), and in some cases, reprimand, copies of correspondence with the student that detail the resolution of the situation will typically 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.  Although 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. If a student is transported to the hospital in a life-threatening 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 student’s well-being.

Likewise, if a student is deemed to present a direct threat of harm, the College may notify parents without the consent of the student.  It should also be noted that, in accordance with Maine State Law, the student’s written consent is required for the College to share health information with a parent where a student is under the age of 18 and has consented to the healthcare themselves (rather than through a parent or guardian).  The College may also share such information with a parent where there is a pressing personal health or public health emergency.  If a student has been inexplicably absent from campus for a prolonged period of time, emergency notification will be made in accordance with the Missing Student Policy, which is required under federal law.

HEALTH AND COUNSELING TREATMENT RECORDS

As noted above, FERPA applies to education records, which do not include treatment records that may be generated on campus, including in the Health and Counseling Centers. Treatment records are defined to include records that are: (1) relating to a student that are either created or maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional acting in their professional capacity; (2) generated solely to provide treatment to the student; and (3) not disclosed to anyone other than individuals providing such treatment.

However, access to Bowdoin’s Health and Counseling Services’ records is limited by departmental confidentiality policies. In particular, information shared, generated, and/or obtained during visits to either the Health Center or Counseling Center is protected from disclosure by specific policies regulating the release of such information.

Students may request to review their own confidential counseling or health records by filing a written authorization with the Director of the Counseling Services and Wellness Programs or Director of Health Services, respectively. This request must be responded to within a reasonable period of time not to exceed forty-five days. If the provider believes review of these records would be detrimental to the student’s own health, Counseling Services and Health Services reserve the right to require that a member of the counseling or health staff be present while the student reviews the records in order to discuss or help interpret any information the records may contain.

With a student’s written authorization, counseling or health information can be disclosed to a third party for the specific purpose stated in that authorization. This authorization is retained with the student’s counseling or health records and is effective for a time period mutually agreed upon between the provider and student. Counseling and health records will be maintained for six years after a student’s year of graduation.

There are certain circumstances in which legal statutes require or allow mental health professionals and health professionals to break confidentiality, without consent if necessary.  These include circumstances where there is serious threat of harm to self or others, or suspicion of child or elder abuse. Also, in rare instances, counseling records may be subject to court subpoena. In the event of after-hours emergency services, information may also be shared with necessary campus personnel (i.e., Security, Office of the Dean of Students, and Residential Life) to provide safety and support.