Across campuses nationwide, there continues to be a great deal of discussion related to the privacy of student records in relation to tragedies on college campuses. FERPA does permit university employees to disclose information about students who they perceive to be disruptive to the safety, health, or well-being of the campus community. FERPA also permits university employees to disclose information if they perceive the student to have a disturbing change in their normal behavior that generates concern for the safety of the student and campus community.
It is important for faculty and staff to understand that FERPA does not prohibit the disclosure of personal or classroom behavioral observations of students. FERPA allows us all the discretion to release this information under specified circumstances, and through proper channels, to appropriate personnel on campus.
What Are the "Specified Circumstances"?
FERPA allows the disclosure of information from the educational record, without the written consent of the student, under the following: "Persons in an emergency, if the knowledge of information, in fact, is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other persons." The Department of Education interprets FERPA to permit institutions to disclose information from education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their son or daughter.
Some concerns have been expressed by faculty and staff on campus that they are reluctant to share any information with the appropriate personnel on campus if the student advised them, verbally or in writing, that they were seeing a mental health or other medical professional. Note that anything expressed verbally by a student is not part of the "educational record," and can be shared. If the student has advised a staff or faculty member of this in writing, it can still be shared with someone with "an educational need to know" as described by FERPA regulations, which would include those listed as the "appropriate personnel on campus" below.
Again, the bottom line to recall: FERPA does not prohibit disclosure of personal observations to appropriate campus personnel about students of concern. You do not have to determine if this is an emergency that will be considered a threat of health or safety. You can consult with other appropriate personnel on campus for additional perspective, suggestions, resources, referral or assistance.
Who Are the "Appropriate Personnel on Campus"?
There are a variety of personnel on campus who can be of assistance depending on the situation. For example, the Dean of Students office is a central resource for assistance especially when you are unsure of who to contact.
The Counseling Center has licensed professional staff members who are available during business hours to consult with you about students of concern.
These two confidential offices are available for phone consultation to you or to meet with you if you want to bring a group of staff or faculty together to problem-solve about a particularly complex student situation. Or they can refer you to other appropriate resources.
Finally, in an urgent situation, never hesitate to call UCCS Police.
Some faculty members think they should not reveal the name of the student and should keep the consultation anonymous. However, this is key information for the consulting party, as that professional may already have some information about the student of concern that should be included to formulate the best way to proceed. Some of these professionals may already have had contact with the individual, and you may be providing key information that the professional would need to know to be effective. Licensed mental health professionals have strict confidentiality laws to follow that restrict their ability to inform you. However, FERPA allows you great discretion in informing the mental health professional of your own professional observations, as well as allows you to share information about a student with a person who has an "educational need to know."
In conclusion, it is important for all of us to understand that FERPA does not prevent you from contacting others on the UCCS Campus if you have concerns about the behaviors of a student on this campus. However, only those who are identified as the "appropriate personnel on campus" should be contacting the parents or other relatives of students. These trained individuals are most knowledgeable in human behavior, and can best determine if further concern is warranted.