Student Privacy and Confidentiality
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is a federal law that limits the disclosure of a student’s education records. The purpose of FERPA is to protect the privacy of students and to ensure that students have access to their own records. University of Mississippi employees responding to requests for student information must be aware of the protected status of such information. Employees must not provide requested information to third parties unless the student consents to the release or unless FERPA specifically permits the release of the information without consent.
Under FERPA, a student’s records are presumed to be private and may not be disclosed to the public without the student’s consent. A “student” is defined as a person who has attended an educational institution at any time and with respect to whom the institution maintains educational records or personally identifiable information. In order to safeguard the privacy of the information, rights derived from FERPA vest in the student who has either attained eighteen years of age or who is attending an institution of postsecondary education (regardless of age).
The information maintained by Student Disability Services (SDS) falls under the definition of “education records.” As defined by FERPA, an “education record” is any material that contains information directly related to a student and is maintained by an educational institution or someone acting on its behalf.
Under FERPA, SDS will disclose a student’s SDS records without the student’s consent only in limited circumstances. Examples include disclosure to:
- Officials at the educational institution with a legitimate educational interest;
- A person who obtains a judicial order or subpoena directing release of the information;
- Appropriate individuals during a health or safety emergency.
Because of these legal and University requirements, as well as the basic human right to privacy, it is essential that faculty understand the expectations of privacy guaranteed to students with disabilities. When communicating directly with a student who has a disability, faculty can ask how the student is impacted in the classroom by his or her disability; however, faculty cannot ask a student to disclose his or her diagnosis. In addition:
- Faculty must ensure that all Instructor Notification forms are kept in a secure location. It is essential that faculty not lose or misplace these forms.
- Faculty must not identify a student as having a disability. For instance, on a test day, do not announce to the class, “All students who get accommodations go to the conference room.” Students with disabilities will be identified when they leave the classroom.
- If there is classroom discussion regarding an issue directly related to disability, faculty should not direct comments or questions specifically to a student in the class who has a disability.
Faculty should be conscientious of how communication and actions in the classroom may impact the privacy or comfort of a student with a disability.