FAQ

Faculty Frequently Asked Questions

FERPA & Classroom Management

What FERPA protected information do I need to worry about as a faculty member?

Education records are protected under FERPA. Education record information is defined as information maintained by USF or parties acting on its behalf, which contains information directly related to a student. Education records can be maintained in multiple formats and media. Education records may be presented by the student, submitted on behalf of the student, or created by the University.

Common examples of education records in the classroom include class rosters; class assignments that are graded or ungraded, as long as the student’s name and/or other personally identifiable information is present; and recordings of class lectures that capture a student’s likeness, name, or any other personally identifiable information. You must have a student’s written permission before sharing any of the above items to anyone besides the student.

What does USF consider directory information that may be freely released?

USF’s definition of directory information includes the following elements:

  1. Student's name
  2. Student's classification (first year, etc.) and major field of study
  3. Student's participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  4. Weight and height of members of athletic teams
  5. Student's dates of attendance, part-time or full-time status, and degrees and awards received
  6. Student's photographic image independent of any additional personal identifiers

As you read through this list, consider, for a moment, a question or a task that you perform regularly in your role at USF. What student information do you use, request, or otherwise have access to that is NOT considered directory information?

If the items that you thought of do not appear on this list, they are protected under FERPA, and may not be disclosed to any USF employee who doesn’t have a legitimate educational interest. Likewise, you may not share non-directory information with anyone outside USF without written permission from the student.

Furthermore, students have a right to further restrict release of their information. This is done through the Office of the Registrar privacy request functionality in MyUSF, and remains in place until the student makes further updates. If you do not have Banner access, or regularly check student privacy elections as a part of your day-to-day tasks, it’s better to assume that you may not release information unless you have written permission from the student.

You expect me to report attendance at the start of term. May I circulate a sign-in sheet while I lecture?

Do not publicly circulate sign-in sheets, especially if more than student names are listed. Students do not have a right to see other students’ U-ID numbers and other identifiers. Similarly, legal names are often listed on class rosters, and students may prefer to go by a nickname or other preferred name, which are captured in Canvas. 

Grades do not appear on the directory information list? What does that mean for how I share academic progress of my students?

Students do not have the right to know other students’ grades. This means you must:

  • Pass graded work directly to the appropriate student instead of placing in a stack for pick-up; this is true for even the largest sections. Employ FERPA compliant methods for returning work.
  • Do NOT post grades in a manner that is viewable to more than one student.
  • When discussing the outcome of an exam, calculated class averages, while not always statistically significant, are more FERPA compliant than grade ranges and distributions.  Students are particularly perceptive to who got what grade, especially in smaller sections.  As you know by now, grades are NOT directory information.

I’m doing my best to embrace Hy-Flex for teaching and reaching students remotely. What software may I use to engage with my students?

You may employ any technology in which the student has to authenticate to enter. Most commonly, these sources are USF email, Canvas, and Teams. You may not share information about students on social media or other websites. You may not post lectures publicly to YouTube or other platforms where students may be publicly identified in a classroom setting. Please be sure to work with the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning to ensure you’re conducting your classroom manner that’s accessible, engaging, and FERPA-compliant.

A colleague tells you that one of his students requested accommodations on the final exam due to a disability. The colleague wants to know what, if any, accommodations were granted to the student in your course last semester. Under FERPA, what should you do?

You refer the colleague to Student Accessibility Services [SAS]. The information about disabilities is protected under both FERPA and the American Disabilities Act. Your experience may or may not be relevant to the situation at hand, therefore a need to know does not exist. Reasonable accommodation decisions are made by SAS.

An international student I know called me from oversees. She needs to know her spring grades so that she knows what classes to take next fall. She’s really worried about her lab grade. Can I give out that information?

Do your best NOT give out grades over the phone or e-mail. Instead, direct students to MyUSF and Canvas to view their grades. If you decide you want to have a conversation with the student by phone, you must authenticate the student by asking questions that only the student can answer before sharing any FERPA protected information. Here’s some suggested topics: past academic history (courses taken last semester, an assignment currently graded in Canvas) or a factoid that only the student would know.

It is permissible to include a student’s GPA and grades in a letter of recommendation without obtaining the student’s written permission since the student requested that you write the letter and provided her resume with the grades, etc. on it?

It is not. To provide a letter of recommendation, you must receive a statement from the student that:

  • Is dated and signed by the student (or sent from the student’s USF email)
  • Specifies the records to be disclosed
  • States the purpose of the disclosure
  • Specifies the name of person or other entity to be given records

Is it poor practice to leave graded work, SAP appeals or any other FERPA protected information in public area, such as hallway mailbox?

Yes. This is a violation of the privacy rule because students may not have access to others’ information. Keep student record information in a secure and monitored location; think about this as it pertains to your home workspace too.

May I give FERPA protected information to a student’s friend or parent to bring home to an ill student?

If you receive a release via USF email, in Canvas, or that is handwritten, and it names the individual, and states which information they may have, you may provide information for a third party to bring to a student. You may also mail this information without a release. If you do give it to another individual to transport, it’s important that you keep a copy of the release that the student provided.

A student feels he was unfairly graded. He wants to know what other students earned in the class. Can I tell him?

No, you cannot release the grades of individual students to another student, even if you do not distinguish who received which grade. Better choice: Release a calculated class average, while it may not always be statistically significant, a calculated class average does not violate FERPA.

An unauthorized person had access to student record information on my computer. What should I do?

If you accidently, inadvertently share student information that you shouldn’t have, it’s important to take immediate action.  Your first step is always to notify the University Registrar at TellTheRegistrar@usf.edu, so we can follow our institutional data breach protocol. 

Mistakes happen; taking swift action, protects student information and demonstrates due diligence on behalf of all parties.

Here are a few ways to take preventative action:

  • Lock workstation (“Windows” key + L) when you walk away; remind students using computers in class to do the same.
  • Remind students to log-off computers when they are finished with class; do the same on any instructional devices you are using.
  • Cover all personally identifiable information when someone walks over to your workspace.
  • Secure all personally identifiable information before leaving your workspace.
  • Before throwing away or recycling paper, review it for FERPA protected information.  Shred all personally identifiable information; even Post-it Notes and Scratch paper with U-IDs and other non-directory information need to be shredded.
  • Take steps to physically secure your desktop, laptop and other portable devices and drives, as well as your actual office. 
  • Know a network before logging on, ensure that at home FERPA protected information is just as secure.
  • Log-out of Banner and Canvas when you’re done using them; and please don’t share your passwords.
  • Use USF e-mail only to send and receive FERPA protected information. Only send FERPA protected information to students via their USF e-mail addresses.  If sharing information about class work or grades, do not employ a group email or message.   
  • Before sending an email, consider the legitimate educational interest of the recipient.  Be sure to remove anything that is not need to know, and then click “send.”
  • Ask to see identification before granting access to student records.
  • Explain to a student, colleague, etc. why you are unable to provide information, if need to know does not exist.