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Confidentiality of Student Records: A Guide for Parents

In the course of an academic year, it is common for parents to want to know how their student is progressing at the College.  Please review the following answers to frequently asked questions to become more familiar with law and policy regarding the confidentiality of your student’s educational records.   
 
What does FERPA mandate?
 
Your student's educational privacy rights are governed by the federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (called "FERPA" or the "Buckley Amendment").  Under FERPA, the student is the only person with a legal right to his/her education records, and colleges may not disclose personally identifiable information from student education records—even to parents—without the student’s prior written consent.  Disclosure includes written and verbal communications.
 
What if there is a health or safety emergency involving my student?
 
There are a number of exceptions to the law that prohibits disclosure without the student’s written consent, including one for health and safety emergencies.  Specifically, the law permits the College to disclose otherwise private and confidential information from an education record to appropriate parties in an emergency situation if the College believes that knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.  Appropriate parties may include school officials, law enforcement authorities, emergency responders, public health officials, medical personnel, and other members of the community.  FERPA regulations note that parents are often in the best position to help their student during crises.
 
What constitutes the student's consent?
 
Consent must be in writing and must specify the records to be disclosed, the purpose of disclosure, and the party to whom disclosure may be made. If the record contains personally identifiable information about other students, that information must be deleted before disclosing the record. Consent is not required for disclosure of information from education records to school officials who have a legitimate educational interest in the records because the information is necessary to perform a job-related task.
 
What are education records?
 
FERPA regulations define education records as "those records that are directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution" (Part 99.3). These records include grades, transcripts, course schedules, financial aid records, disciplinary records, and health records, and other types of personally identifiable information.
  
What rights does FERPA provide and to whom do these rights extend?
 
While a student is attending elementary and secondary school, and is under age 18, parents/legal guardians exercise FERPA rights on behalf of the student. These rights transfer directly to the student upon his/her enrollment in a college or university, even if that student enrolls prior to reaching the age of 18. FERPA provides each enrolled student the following rights: to inspect and review education records; to request an amendment; to limit disclosure; and to file a complaint. The College provides annual notice to students regarding these rights and the procedures for exercising them.
 
What is directory information and how may a student block its release?
 
Directory information is student data not generally considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed; the College, at its discretion, may release directory information. Currently, directory information is limited to the following: name; address (local and permanent); telephone listing (local and permanent); e-mail address; date and place of birth; major field of study; class year; participation in officially recognized activities and sports; height/weight of members of athletic teams; enrollment status (e.g., full-time or part-time); dates of attendance; degrees and awards received; and previous educational institutions attended.  Students may block the release of directory information by filing timely, written notice with the Office of Enrollment Services.
 
How can I obtain information about my student's academic status, including grades?
 
The best source of information about your student’s academic status is your student.  Most students come to college having developed a mutually respectful method of communication with their parents/guardians regarding their educational goals, challenges, setbacks, and progress.  During the college years, most students choose to have periodic discussions with parents/guardians about their academic status, including their grades.  Ultimately, students choose whether, and to whom, to disclose such information and the College will honor our students' choices on this matter.  Most Providence College students choose to sign a written consent form permitting parental access to certain records, typically their academic and/or financial records.  When students sign a form consenting to the release of certain information to parents/guardians, the decision about what, if any, information to disclose shifts to the College and the College will exercise this discretion depending on the particular circumstances at the time.  Further, out of respect for our students, the College recognizes that in nearly every academic circumstance, the wisest decision is to involve students in discussions between the College and their parents/guardian.  
 
Will I be notified if my student is charged with a code of conduct violation through the College's Office of Student Conduct?
 
Student conduct records, with few exceptions, may not be disclosed without the student's consent. The Office of Student Conduct may recommend to students that they inform their parents when they are accused of a disciplinary offense.
 
Will I be notified if my student is charged with a drug or alcohol violation?
 
 
FERPA authorizes, but does not require, disclosure to parents of students under the age of 21 regarding the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance when that use violates laws, rules, or policies. The Student Handbook outlines the College's policies regarding parental notification.

Will I be notified if my student is treated at the Student Health Center or is seeing a counselor in the Personal Counseling Center?
 
Not normally.  In addition to FERPA, state laws and professional ethical codes preclude the College from routinely sharing student medical information and counseling records with third parties, including parents, without the student's consent. There are important policy reasons supporting these confidentiality requirements, including the proven therapeutic benefits associated with encouraging students to talk freely with a physician or counselor, without fear that their conversations will be reported to others. Confidentiality, of course, is not absolute. As noted above, a parent/guardian may be notified if the College determines that the student's behavior poses a health or safety emergency.
 
 
Will I be notified if my student is hurt or injured on campus?

If the injury is of a severe or life-threatening nature, a parent/guardian will be notified by either the hospital or the College, or both. If the injury is not of a severe nature, the College will strongly encourage the student to inform a parent of the situation.

Will I be notified if my student is hurt or injured off-campus?

Generally, students are not subject to the same level of supervision off-campus as they are on-campus. If the College learns of an emergency involving a student, however, a parent will be notified in similar fashion as for emergencies related to on-campus occurrences. Otherwise, the College will strongly encourage the student to inform a parent of the situation. Hospitals and law enforcement agencies, of course, will follow their own notification protocols.
 
Who can answer other questions I may have about student privacy rights?
 
FERPA-related questions may be directed to the Office of Enrollment Services/Academic Records. Please contact Lucille Calore, Associate Dean of Enrollment Services, at 401-865-1199, or send an e-mail to records@providence.edu. You may review the Student Handbook online. You may also contact Jacqueline Kiernan MacKay, Associate Dean and Director of Parent Programs: parents@providence.edu.
 
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