FERPA FAQs for Faculty and Staff

These FAQs are intended to be an aid for GW Faculty and Staff and have been developed in alignment with the Privacy of Student Records Policy and the guidance provided by the Office of the Registrar.

If you have further questions or concerns related to FERPA and privacy of students' information, email [email protected]. We will work with the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Registrar to address your questions or concerns.


FERPA Basics

FERPA defines eligible students as individuals “in attendance” at the institution. GW defines "in attendance" as beginning on the first day of classes. 

The term "parent" is defined as including natural parents, a guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a guardian.

Education records are records, files, emails, documents, and other materials which: 

  • contain information directly related to a student (personally identifiable Information);

and

  • are maintained by the University or by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution.
  • Private Instructor/Supervisor/Administrator records
  • Law enforcement records created for legal purposes
  • Employment records (only those university positions where student status is not a pre-requisite for employment);
  • Alumni records; Student medical records; non matriculant records.

FERPA permits a school to disclose personally identifiable information from a student's education records when such information has been appropriately designated as directory information. "Directory information" is defined as information contained in the education records of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.

FERPA permits schools to define their list of directory information.

The following is GW's defined list of directory information:

  • Student’s name; local address (including email); Telephone numbers;
  • Likeness used in university publications, including photographs;
  • Names and addresses of emergency contacts;
  • Dates of attendance; School or division of enrollment; Enrollment status; Field of study; Class; Credits hours earned; Degrees or certificates earned; Honors received;
  • Participation in university-recognized organizations and activities (including intercollegiate athletics); Height, weight, and age of members of athletic teams
  • Date of Birth will be considered directory information only for the purpose of compliance with applicable laws.

Note: Any student who does not wish directory information released must file written notice to this effect in the Office of the Registrar using the Confidentiality Request form.

  • The student has access rights to inspect and review student education records. The University   may have the ability to disclose under certain circumstances.
  • If an “eligible student” would like someone (a parent, a third party) to view their education records, the student should provide written consent to the school, permitting that person to access the record(s).
  • A school may disclose information from a student’s education records, without student consent to specific entities, under certain circumstances. Contact the Office of General Counsel for further guidance on FERPA exceptions.

A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibilities for the University.

At GW, “school officials” are

i) individuals employed in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research, or support staff position;

(ii) individuals employed by GW-hired contractor or the contractor itself;

(iii) Board of Trustees members; and (iv) students serving on an official committee (e.g., disciplinary or grievance committee) or assisting another school official in performing their tasks.  

FERPA requires that a consent for disclosure of education records:

(i) be signed;

(ii) be dated;

(iii) specify the records to release;

(iv) state the purpose of disclosure; and

(v) identify the party to which disclosure should be made.

GW’s consent form can be found on the Registrar’s website. 

Forms should be submitted to the Office of the Registrar for verification and record-keeping.

 

Student consent must be specific, signed, and dated.

As such, oral consent for disclosure of information from education records would not meet FERPA’s consent requirements.

FERPA permits electronic consent.

GW's consent form can be found of the Office of the Registrar website.

FERPA allows the University the right to disclose education records or identifiable information to third parties without the student's consent, under certain circumstances.

Some examples include:

  • when the disclosure involves directory information;
  • disclosure is made to other school officials who have a legitimate educational interest;
  • if there is a “health or safety emergency”
  • disclosure is made to parents/guardians of the student in very limited circumstances;
  • to comply with lawfully issued subpoena or judicial order;
  • to schools in which the student applies or intends to transfer; or
  • in certain student disciplinary cases.

Contact the GW Office of General Counsel with further questions related to FERPA exceptions.

 


Safe handling of FERPA information

  • Access student records only for purposes in scope of your job.
  • Keep student information secure, regardless of its form (print / electronic /audio /video /photo).
  • For guidance about safe access, storage and handling of regulated university information, check GW’s Data Protection Guide.
  • Follow University Records Retention Schedule and securely dispose of regulated information (check disposal requirements for regulated data included in the GW’s Data Protection Guide)

Disclosures of student education records

You should not immediately release any information about a student.

Contact the Office of the Registrar to verify if:

  • The student opted out of directory information

and / or

  • The student provided written consent for release of information from academic records to the requestor.

Contact the Office of the Registrar to confirm whether or not a student opted out of directory information.

Contact the Office of the Registrar to confirm whether or not a student provided written consent for release of information from academic records.

If the student opted out directory information and provided no consent for disclosure of education records, university employees should not acknowledge that the person is or has ever been a student here. You might say, "I have no information to release."

If the caller questions that statement, refer them to Office of the Registrar - (202) 994-4900 or [email protected].

If the student opted out directory information but provided consent for disclosure of education records, disclosure is permitted.

Contact the Privacy Office, Office of the Registrar, or the Office of General Counsel for questions.

Information from education records that has been appropriately designated as "directory information" by the University may be disclosed without prior consent.

However, students may request non-disclosure of their directory information, by submitting the Confidentiality Request Form available on the Office of the Registrar Forms page.

Always check student privacy and permission status (contact the Office of the Registrar for help) before releasing directory information about that student.

FERPA allows the University the discretion to disclose student education records or student personally identifiable information to third parties without the student's consent under certain circumstances (FERPA Exceptions).

Check the "FERPA Basics" section of this guidance, for information on FERPA exceptions.

Faculty should not be encouraged to disclose student education record information, without student’s consent, unless there is a legitimate interest to do so (if they need to review the education record in order to fulfill their professional responsibility).

FERPA applies to the disclosure of education records and of personally identifiable information (PII) from education records that are maintained by the University. 

Therefore, FERPA does not prohibit a school official from releasing information about a student that was obtained through the school official’s personal knowledge or observation.

The university retains discretion to release a student's education record to his/her parents or legal gardian, if one of the following conditions has been met:

  • The student has provided consent through the Student Consent form. Contact the Office of the Registrar office to confirm whether the student’s written (signed and dated) consent to release education records has been submitted.
  • In connection with a health or safety issue
  • Submission of evidence that the student was declared a dependent on the most recent Federal Income Tax forms, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, Section 152, through the Financial Dependency form.

If you have any specific questions regarding this process, please contact the Office of the Registrar at (202) 994-4900 or [email protected].

Guidance on what to do when you received a subpoena or a legal notice, can be found on the GW Office of General Counsel website (link below).

Subpoenas and other Legal Notices

Yes, you may write a letter of recommendation letter for a student, if requested.

However, information contained in education records may not be disclosed without the student's written consent. Please have the student for whom you are writing recommendation complete a Student Consent for Faculty/Staff Recommendation form if you plan to include academic information such as individual grades, specific course performance, cumulative GPA, test scores, academic honors, or current academic status. Retain a signed copy of this form in your files.

Statements made from your own personal observations or knowledge of the student do not require a written consent because personal observation/knowledge is not based on information learned from an education record. 

While FERPA does not specifically prohibit the disclosure of personally identifiable information from a student’s education records over the telephone, it does require that the University / school official making the disclosure, uses reasonable methods to identify and authenticate the identity of parents, students, school officials, and any other parties to whom the school may discloses personally identifiable information from education records.

Check the Privacy of Student Records Policy for requirements and guidance on how to authenticate a requestor’s identity.

Yes. FERPA requires that institutions use reasonable methods to verify the identity of students, school officials, parents and others to whom information from education records is disclosed.

Check the Privacy of Student Records Policy for requirements and guidance on how to authenticate a requestor’s identity.

Email is an easy way to communicate with students. Prior to sending an email, it’s important to evaluate the risk associated with sending student information and recognizing if it is personally identifiable information (PII).

The Department of Education provides guidance related to communicating to students via email, in this short video: Email and student Privacy



With regards to communicating grades, students should be referred to GWeb to check their grades or they can request a transcript from the Office of the Registrar.

No, you should not display student grades or scores in association with social security numbers, names, initials, student ID numbers (GWID), birthdays, phone numbers or any other identifying information.

As a best practice, even without identifying information, you should not post the grades in alphabetical order.

No. Without student consent, graded papers and exams may not be shared with, or be made accessible publicly.

You should not leave papers, graded exam books or lab reports containing student names and grades in publicly accessible places.

Similarly, you should not leave graded tests in a stack for students to pick up by sorting through the papers of all students, in order to protect the privacy of student education records information.

GWID is not considered directory information and therefore you may not disclose a student’s GWID along with directory information.

Refrain from linking the name of a student with that student’s University ID number in any public manner.

Refrain from using student GWid in a class attendance roster. You can track attendance on a list that contains only students’ names or a blank sign-in sheet.

Yet, you may share a photo roster but only with the students registered in that class.


Photos, Videos and Lecture Recordings 

As with any other “education record,” a photo or video of a student is an education record, subject to specific exclusions, when the photo or video is: 

(1) directly related to a student;

and

(2) maintained by the University or by a party acting on behalf of the University.

If a recording made by the University includes only the instructor, it is not a student record.

If the recording made by the University identifies students, then the portions containing recordings of the student do constitute protected educational records.

Students are not permitted to record instructors, where the instructor has made it clear that recording is not permissible.

Wiretap laws are to be considered when recording others without clear notice.

Use of some applications or services may introduce security or privacy vulnerabilities into the University systems.

To ensure appropriate protection of student education record information and promote a safe, secure computing environment, only virtual collaboration platform(s) selected and approved by the University for conducting classes and delivering lectures should be used when recording classes and lectures.

Refer to Tools for Instructional Continuity and the GW Guidance for use of Virtual Meeting, Event or Collaboration Platforms for more information.

Faculty and staff should check with their IT support team to see if the application or service is approved for use in the classroom.

If you plan to share the recording outside the class roaster, you should make sure that no student PII is included in the recording.

Follow best practice advice below, to make sure that student PII is not included in the class video recording:

  • Plan the recordings so that they do not show students who are asking questions, don’t refer to the students by name, and avoid repeating the student’s question in the recording (de-identifying the students removes the need for a specific consent from each student depicted).
  • If a student happens to appear on camera, their identity can be edited out.      
  • Verify attendance and student identities, prior to recording, but do not ask for confidential or sensitive Information (e.g., date of birth, social security number) through online platforms.
  • In case of student presentations, because it is more difficult to de-identify the student in such situation, the instructor should contact the Office of the Registrar, to ensure FERPA consent is obtained from the student making a presentation, prior to share the recording.

For more information contact the GW Privacy Office ([email protected]).

Yes. You should notify students in advance about recording classes/lectures.

Notification can be included in the course syllabus. Example:

This course / lecture may be audio/video recorded. As part of your participation in this course, you may be recorded.

The recording will be made available to students in this class.

If you have privacy concerns, please contact the GW Privacy Office ([email protected]).

No.  A student may not use his or her right to opt out of directory information disclosures to prevent school officials from identifying the student by name or disclosing the student’s electronic identifier or institutional e-mail address in class.

Yes, as long as the students are de-identified or the recording is not shared outside the class roaster.

Yes, only if students participating in the video cannot not be identified.

  • Recordings can be edited to de-identify the students in the recording (which can include avoiding or removing any mention of the student’s name, blurring the student’s image, altering voice recordings, etc.). 
  • Recordings can also be planned so that students (such as those asking questions during a class) are not shown in the video or referred to by name (another way to de-identify the student).