Policy: Protecting Student Privacy

Students attending Trinity have privacy rights under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which limits access to student information. All employees of Trinity, both faculty and staff, are obliged to protect student privacy rights as both a legal and ethical concern. Faculty and staff are likely to obtain significant amounts of private information about students in the normal course of business, whether academic, co-curricular, financial, judicial, admissions, athletic, security, counseling, testing, or other kinds of information. Sometimes students will volunteer highly personal information; or staff may observe certain student actions, or have legitimate access to academic, financial or personal information about students. No matter how the information is derived, faculty and staff should observe these rules to protect student privacy:

  1. Faculty and staff should not discuss student business in public places, e.g., in the dining hall, on the corridor, in the bookstore, or in any other location in which other people might overhear the conversation. No professional person on Trinity’s staff should ever engage in gossip about a student or share a student’s personal information outside of a legitimate and necessary business purpose.
  2. Care should be exercised in the dissemination of papers, email, voicemail and any other forms of written or oral documentation in which individual students are discussed. As a general rule, sensitive student issues should not be discussed in email messages, and written documentation should be limited to the specific purpose for which the document is needed. While a written document may necessarily describe a behavior or data set concerning a student, it is never appropriate to render any characterization of the student beyond the simple description of the issue at hand, unless the characterization is rendered by a competent professional for clinical purposes.
  3. In order to care for students appropriately, or to ensure their academic progress, it is necessary for faculty and staff to share student information on a ‘need to know’ basis according to the nature of the information and the student’s situation. Individual staff or faculty who do not need to know individual student information should not be included in discussions about particular cases.
  4. Faculty or staff who misuse student information, expose student information to public view, or who otherwise violate the letter and spirit of this policy may be subject to disciplinary action. Any member of the faculty or staff who misuses student information in a way that is likely to harm the student’s reputation, to threaten or intimidate the student, or similar actions, may incur dismissal.
  5. Faculty and staff also have an obligation to disclose information in their possession in situations in which a student might do harm to herself or others. A pledge of confidentiality to a student may not be a basis for withholding information if the situation indicates a potential for harm. Such disclosure should be to the appropriate dean, vice president or president.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects a student’s educational records from unauthorized disclosure, with certain important exceptions. An “education record” under FERPA is a record that is directly related to a student, and that is maintained by the University or its authorized contractors in the ordinary course of business. The most usual examples include financial aid information, grades, transcripts, disciplinary files, classes and class schedules. A record can be in any medium that records information, not just paper. A student has the right to review his or her educational record, to ask that the record be released to a third party or to request a correction if appropriate. Please note that records kept in the sole possession of the maker, such as notes to aid the memory of conversations with students, are not considered educational records unless the maker of the notes discloses them to someone else.

There are some instances in which an educational record can be disclosed without the student’s authorization. The most common instance is disclosures to school officials who have a legitimate “need to know” the recorded information. A “school official” for these purposes is:

  • A person employed by the University in an administrative, supervisory, academic or support staff position, including health or medical staff.
  • A person or entity employed by or under contract to the University to perform a special task, such as an attorney or auditor or an outside vendor.
  • A member of the campus safety department.

A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official is:

  • Performing a task that is specified in his or her position description or contract agreement.
  • Performing a task related to a student’s education.
  • Performing a task related to the discipline of a student.
  • Providing a service or benefit relating to the student or student’s family, such as health care, counseling, job placement or financial aid.
  • Maintaining the safety and security of the campus.

In addition, a University may disclose personally identifiable information from education records without obtaining prior written consent of the student in the following situations (not an exhaustive list). The University must maintain a record of each such disclosure:

  • To officials of another school in which a student seeks or intends to enroll or is already enrolled if the disclosure relates to purposes of enrollment or transfer.
  • To authorized state or federal officials if requested in connection with an evaluation of publicly supported education programs or for the enforcement of or compliance with legal requirements related to those programs.
  • In connection with financial aid for which the student has applied or received if the information is necessary to determine aid eligibility, amount or conditions or to enforce the terms and conditions of such aid.
  • To organizations conducting studies for or on behalf of the school to create, improve or administer predictive testing; administer student aid programs; or improve instruction.
  • To accrediting organizations to carry out accrediting functions.
  • To parents of an eligible student if the student is a dependent for IRS tax purposes.
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena.
  • To appropriate external officials in connection with a health or safety emergency.
  • To parents of a student regarding the student’s violation of any Federal, State, or local law, or of any rule or policy of the school, governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance if the school determines that the student committed a disciplinary violation and is under the age of 21.

Please note that while FERPA does not specifically prohibit the disclosure of information over the telephone, staff and faculty must take reasonable measures to ensure the person they are speaking to has the right to the information and is who they purport to be.

The following data is considered to be directory information and may be given to an inquirer, either in person, by mail or by telephone, and may be otherwise made public: name of student, address (both local, including e-mail address and permanent), photograph, dates of registered attendance, enrollment status (e.g. full-time or part-time), school or division of enrollment, major field of study, nature and dates of degrees and awards or honors received and participation in officially recognized activities and sports.

A student currently enrolled may request that such directory information not be disclosed by completing the FERPA Information and Release Form, available on the Enrollment Services page of the Trinity website.