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Student Privacy & FERPA Best Practices

Communicating About Students

Because every shared document and written exchange referencing a student is an education record under FERPA, it is important to follow best practices when communicating about students:

  • Write each communication with the understanding that the student may view it in the future.
  • Be factual and honest about the student’s academic work, noting both the positive as well as areas of concern. Provide specific examples, when possible.
  • Avoid inserting opinions and comments of a personal nature (e.g., I think Susan needs to focus less on her family and more on her coursework).
  • Avoid direct comparison of individual students (e.g., Susan’s work is not as good as Laura’s work).
  • It is not appropriate to share information relating to disability, health issues, or medications with other faculty or staff unless there is a concern about the health and safety of the student or concerns that the student may pose a safety risk to others.

Information related to student academic progress or personal issues should be shared on a need-to-know basis only, and such information should never be shared with other students.

Evaluation of Student Work

When evaluating students or discussing academic progress, the best practice is to meet in person or participate via conference call. A summary of the discussion, including any decisions and votes, should be placed in the student file after the meeting. Detailed minutes of the meeting should not be maintained.

If discussion of a student’s academic progress is conducted over email, adhere to the best practices identified above. Send one email for each individual student rather than writing one comprehensive email commenting on, and comparing, multiple students.

Concern for a Student

When concerned about a student, follow best practices to the extent possible. FERPA, however, should never prevent you from contacting the Graduate Life Office, Academic Advising, Residential Deans, the H&S Dean’s Office (GUS), or other campus partners when you are concerned about a student’s health and safety, or the health and safety of others.

Letters of Recommendation

Students have the right to view letters of recommendation if they have not waived their right to do so under FERPA. If there is a letter that you are uncomfortable with the student viewing, confirm that the student has signed a waiver prior to submitting it.

Sharing and Returning Academic Work

A student’s work (e.g., honors theses, milestone papers, etc.) should not be shared with other students without permission of the author. If the academic work is maintained at a University library, including the Stanford Digital Repository, and is broadly available to the Stanford community, there is no need to obtain additional student permission to share the work with other students.

Graded work containing personally identifiable information (e.g., student name or email) is an education record. When returning graded work, adopt processes to ensure that other students cannot connect an individual student with a grade. For example, return the work in section or place the grade inside the paper/exam and staple the side of the document so that the grade is not visible to other students.

Graduate Admissions

Admissions documents (e.g., evaluative notes, comments, and rankings) that have been retained become education records when a student enrolls. Consult with department staff about school and department best practices relating to retention of graduate admissions records.

Sole Possession Records

Personal notes that remain in the sole possession of the maker are not an education record. Once shared, however, they become education records, and students have the right to view them.

Review Local Processes

Academic units should review business processes and adopt best practices for creation and retention of education records. Such practices may revolve around admissions, review of students, candidacy and other academic milestone decisions, dismissal of students, and/or return of graded work.

Consult

Questions about FERPA, student privacy or confidentiality contact Susan Weersing (weersing@stanford.edu; 723-1205) or Laura Schlosberg (laura16@stanford.edu; 736-4214).

Here is a link to a printable document of this information.