The ins and outs of FERPA


A group of Butler students gathered to smoke marijuana late one night when they were approached by a Butler University Police Department officer. He started to confiscate their drugs when one of the girls started seizing and fell to the ground.
“I was absolutely terrified,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous.
She stopped seizing and regained her consciousness, but she still had to ride in an ambulance by herself to a local hospital, where she refused medical treatment.
“[The EMT’s] weren’t treating me like a sober person even though I passed all of their sobriety tests,” she said. “They were treating me like I didn’t know what was going on.”
Later that day, she went to a hospital by choice, and the only injury she sustained was a minor scrape.
A few days later, she received a letter from The Office of Student affairs, with a page of the Student Handbook attached that listed which rules she violated.
“I’ve gotten many emails about the Student Handbook and changes, but, like many others, I treated it more like spam mail,” she said. “They could hide something in the student handbook and no one would know.”
In her conduct hearing, she was informed that there was a possibility her parents would be notified about the incident.
Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FeRPA that protects a student’s privacy when it comes to educational records, it is legal to notify parents of a student under 21 violating laws about use and possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.
“I could’ve handled this on my own, I do believe that,” she said. “If I’m paying my own bills, I should be treated as an adult.”
The standard administrative process assigned to under 21-year-old violators of drug or alcohol policies is to notify the parents, said Sally Click, dean of student affairs.
Students are notified that it could be a possible consequence on informative “Red Cup” drinking policy posters posted accross campus and on the “Our Approach to Alcohol” web page on the Butler University website. Typically, parents are notified after the student’s second offense.
“It’s a pretty standard thing,” Click said. “If someone goes to the hospital, an ambulance and hospital bill will be pretty hard to keep under wraps.”
When sharing information and releasing conduct information, Click said the department tries to be careful about what they say and how they say it so they comply with FERPA.
Under the act, each student has the right to access his or her education records, try to amend the records and control the disclosure of personally identifiable information in most circumstances.
“A lot of people don’t fully understand what FERPA is,”said Michele Neary, Butler’s registrar. who previously worked at Northwestern University and Indiana University. “It’s a very difficult thing once students enter higher education.”
When a student applies for graduate school and signs a release for the school to view their conduct records, Click tries to answer questions as specifically as possible.
Different Butler officials have varying access to PeopleSoft, which houses Butler student’s records online, Click said.
Student Affairs views all police reports filed by BUPD, said Bill Weber, assistant police chief.
He said that under FERPA, reports cannot be shared with anyone unless it is for health and safety reasons, an investigation with another law enforcement unit, or for Student Affairs to handle conduct issues. Otherwise, the student must give consent for the police record to be shared.
The law itself states, “The Act neither requires nor prohibits the disclosure by any educational agency or institution of its law enforcement records.”
The Guide for Eligible Students that the U.S. government published to explain FERPA says, “’Law enforcement unit records’ (i.e., records created by the law enforcement unit, created for a law enforcement purpose, and maintained by the law enforcement unit) are not ‘education records’ subject to the privacy protections of FERPA.”
BUPD currently only publishes its crime log, which contains anonymous descriptions of crimes occurring on campus and when they occurred.
“We aren’t a public institution, so we have more latitude,” Click said. “There has to be some sensitivity when a police report is generated. It needs to be treated with care and concern for the individual.”
Students must sign separate waivers for academic advising, health, counseling and other topics if they wish to share them with their families, Click said. The waiver is first offered when the student comes to campus for registration, but can be changed at any time at the student’s discretion.
“We are very clear about what can and cannot be shared with parents,” Click said.
Under FERPA, colleges can legally share what they consider “directory information” which is information that typically is not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy. Every college defines what is shared as public directory information differently, Neary said.
Butler has a wider definition of directory information than the other two schools where she worked, Neary said. It includes marital status, citizenship, hometown, special awards and scholarships, which is not typical of all institutions.


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