As instructors we often have to juggle many student concerns. Among the most important of these are considerations about our students and their privacy. By law, students are entitled to certain rights with regard to their privacy, and as instructors it is our responsibility to ensure that we do not violate these rights.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) deals with students’ rights pertaining to their educational records. Generally speaking, we should not share information about an individual student’s educational record with anyone but that particular student. Should concerns arise, we are permitted to communicate with relevant university officials (e.g., faculty, staff, administrators), but not beyond. For more information, see the Registrar’s FERPA page.
The following points describe instructor responsibilities connected to the student privacy rights guaranteed by FERPA:
- Be clear with your students (both in your syllabus and in conversations with them) that you will only respond to emails sent from their official Mason address. This email address is the only one that we can explicitly identify as belonging to the student in question. Personal email addresses often contain little in the way of identifying information and, thus, can be extremely difficult to verify. It is important to model this for your students by using only your official Mason email address to communicate with them.This email policy is absolutely essential if you are communicating with a student about a grade. If possible, it is good practice to discuss students’ individual grades with them in person rather than via email.
- When emailing multiple students at the same time, be sure to include their addresses in the BCC line so that you do not reveal their contact information to anyone else.
- Never post student grades in any kind of public space. This includes listing grades by Social Security Number or G#, etc.
- Never leave graded student work out in the open. One example of this would be placing graded exams or essays in a box outside your office for students to pick up. Because others can see a particular student’s grade, this constitutes a violation of FERPA.
- If you have GTAs for your course, please be sure that they are keeping these points in mind as well.
- You and your students should know that student work may be selected periodically by the university for learning outcomes assessment. Student anonymity is assured and grades will not be affected.
- As a reminder, please do not inquire about or disclose information about a student’s disability. For more information, please see the website for the Office of Disability Services.