7. Privacy Issues
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 forbids disclosure of information about a student’s academic work to third parties without his or her written permission. Such third parties include fellow students, but also parents and family members of the student in question. Instructors should be alert to the existence of this strong and binding restriction, and should take care not to reveal information about students directly or indirectly to third parties. For example, it is actually illegal to leave graded papers in a public hallway, if it permits students to examine faculty evaluation of the work of other students. Any questions about privacy law and disclosure should be referred to the Registrar.
In order to provide students with timely information about assignments, papers, and exams, many faculty post the results at a convenient location for students to check their grades. Faculty who use this strategy are advised that it is a violation of F.E.R.P.A. to post exam results or grades in a manner that allows any third party to infer a specific student’s grade. Posting grades by full or partial student identification number, social security number, or name, is prohibited. An acceptable way to comply with the law is to post the grades using a unique identifier known only to the instructor and the student. If this method is chosen, the identifier cannot be composed of personally identifiable information such as birth date, phone number, etc., and the list cannot be in alphabetical or seating order. If all grades in a course are the same, those grades should not be posted.
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