FERPA FAQs for Faculty and Staff

These FAQs are intended to be an aid for GW Faculty and Staff and have been developed in alignment with the Privacy of Student Records Policy and the guidance provided by the Office of the Registrar.

If you have further questions or concerns related to FERPA and privacy of students' information, contact the GW Privacy Office. We will work with the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Registrar to address your questions or concerns.


FERPA Basics

Who is a student at GW?

Students are individuals “in attendance” at the university.

What is an education record?

Education records are records, files, emails, documents, and other materials which contain information directly related to a student (personally identifiable Information) and are maintained by the University or by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution.

What are examples of records that are typically not ‘education records’?
  • Law enforcement records
  • Employment records (only those university positions where student status is not a pre-requisite for employment);
  • Alumni records;
  • Student treatment records.

Visit the student privacy site for further guidance.

What is Directory Information?

Directory information is personally identifiable information from a student's education records that are not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.

At GW, directory information includes:

  • Student’s name; local address (including email); Telephone numbers;
  • Likeness used in university publications, including photographs;
  • Names and addresses of emergency contacts;
  • Dates of attendance; School or division of enrollment; Enrollment status; Field of study; Class; Credits hours earned; Degrees or certificates earned; Honors received;
  • Participation in university-recognized organizations and activities (including intercollegiate athletics); Height, weight, and age of members of athletic teams
  • Date of Birth will be considered directory information only for the purpose of compliance with applicable laws.

Students may notify the university if they do not want any of the information listed above to be designated as directory information ("opt out"), by submitting a Confidentiality Request form to the Office of the Registrar.

In what circumstances may a student education record or information from a student education record be disclosed?

The university may disclose records or information from such records:

(1) with the student’s written consent;

and/or

(2) without the student’s written consent, under certain circumstances (outlined in the next question).

Students also have the right to inspect and review their own education records.

In what circumstances may a university disclose students' education records without their consent?

The University has the discretion to disclose education records or identifiable information without the student's consent, under certain circumstances, including but not limited to:

  • when the disclosure involves directory information;
  • disclosure is made to other school officials who have a legitimate educational interest;
  • to parents/guardians of the student in very limited circumstances; 
  • if there is a “health or safety emergency”
  • to comply with lawfully issued subpoena or judicial order; or
  • to schools in which the student applies or intends to transfer.
Can university employees discuss or disclose student education records to one another without the student’s consent?

Yes, provided disclosure is to other school officials, within the university, who have a legitimate educational interest in the information. 

What constitutes a legitimate interest?

A school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review the information or the education record, in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibilities for the University.

Who is a School Official?

At GW, “school officials” are

i) individuals employed in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research, or support staff position;

(ii) individuals employed by GW-hired contractor or the contractor itself;

(iii) Board of Trustees members; and (iv) students serving on an official committee (e.g., disciplinary or grievance committee) or assisting another school official in performing their tasks.

What must a consent for disclosure of education records contain?

FERPA requires that a consent for disclosure of education records:

(i) be signed;

(ii) be dated;

(iii) specify the records to release;

(iv) state the purpose of disclosure; and

(v) identify the party to which disclosure should be made.

A FERPA compliant student consent form can be found here:  Student Consent Form.

Would oral consent to disclose student educations records meet FERPA requirements?

Student consent must be specific, signed, and dated.

As such, oral consent for disclosure of information from education records would not meet FERPA’s consent requirements.

Can a FERPA consent form be signed electronically?

Yes.


Safe handling of FERPA information

What are GW’S requirements regarding the protection of student information?
  • Access student records only for purposes in scope of your job.
  • Keep student information secure, regardless of its form (print / electronic /audio /video /photo).
  • For guidance about safe access, storage and handling of regulated university information, check GW’s Data Protection Guide.
  • Follow University Records Retention Schedule and securely dispose of regulated information (check disposal requirements for regulated data included in the GW’s Data Protection Guide)

Disclosures of student education records

What do I do first, if I receive a request to disclose information about a student?

You should not immediately release any information about a student.

Contact the Office of the Registrar to verify if:

  • The student opted out of directory information

And/or

  • The student provided written consent for release of information from academic records to the requestor.
How do I find out if a student opted out of directory information?

Contact the Office of the Registrar to confirm whether or not a student opted out of directory information.

How do I confirm that a student provided written consent for release of information from academic records?

Contact the Office of the Registrar to confirm whether or not a student provided written consent for release of information from academic records.

How do I handle requests for student records?

Guidance for handling requests for student records can be found on the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel website: Records for Student Records.

Can I release directory information for a student who has “opted out” of directory information (“Confidentiality Flag”)?

No, unless the student has provided written consent to the disclosure or where the disclosure falls within one of the limited circumstances noted above.

May I discuss a student’s academic performance, or other information about a student, with their parent or guardian?

The university may, but is not required to, disclose a student's education record to his/her parents or legal guardian, in the following circumstances:

  • The student has provided consent through the Student Consent form. Contact the Office of the Registrar office to confirm whether the student’s written (signed and dated) consent to release education records has been submitted.
  • In connection with a health or safety emergency.
  • Submission of evidence that the student was declared a dependent on the most recent Federal Income Tax forms, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, Section 152, through the Financial Dependency form.

If you have any specific questions regarding this process, please contact the Office of the Registrar at (202) 994-4900 or [email protected].

What should I do if I receive a subpoena to send a student/alum records?

Guidance on what to do when you received a subpoena or a legal notice, can be found on the GW Office of General Counsel website.

May I write a write a letter of recommendation for a student?

Yes, you may write a letter of recommendation letter for a student, if requested.

However, information contained in education records may not be disclosed without the student's written consent.

Consent may be obtained by having the student complete a Student Consent for Faculty/Staff Recommendation form.

Retain a copy of the student's consent in your files.

May I disclose student education record information over the phone?

While FERPA does not specifically prohibit the disclosure of personally identifiable information from a student’s education records over the telephone, it does require that the University/school official making the disclosure, uses reasonable methods to identify and authenticate the identity of parents, students, school officials, and any other parties to whom the school may disclose personally identifiable information from education records.

Check the Privacy of Student Records Policy for requirements and guidance on how to authenticate a requestor’s identity.

Am I required to verify the identity of the student or others to whom I disclose education records?

Yes. FERPA requires that institutions use reasonable methods to verify the identity of students, school officials, parents and others to whom information from education records is disclosed.

Check the Privacy of Student Records Policy for requirements and guidance on how to authenticate a requestor’s identity.

May I communicate with students via email?

Email is an easy way to communicate with students. Prior to sending an email, it’s important to evaluate the risk associated with sending student information and recognizing if it is personally identifiable information (PII).

The Department of Education provides guidance related to communicating to students via email, in this short video: Email and Student Privacy


With regards to communicating grades, students should be referred to GWeb to check their grades or they can request a transcript from the Office of the Registrar.

May I post students’ grades using Social Security numbers or GWIDs?

No, you should not display student grades or scores in association with social security numbers, names, initials, student ID numbers (GWID), birthdays, phone numbers or any other identifying information.

As a best practice, even without identifying information, you should not post the grades in alphabetical order.

May I leave graded papers and exams outside my door or in publicly accessible areas?

No. Without student consent, graded papers and exams may not be shared with, or be made accessible publicly.

You should not leave papers, graded exam books or lab reports containing student names and grades in publicly accessible places.

Similarly, you should not leave graded tests in a stack for students to pick up by sorting through the papers of all students, in order to protect the privacy of student education records information.

May I disclose a student’s University ID number (GWid) to a third party?

GWID is not considered directory information and therefore you may not disclose a student’s GWID along with directory information.

Refrain from linking the name of a student with their GWid in any public manner.

Refrain from using student GWid in a class attendance roster. You can track attendance on a list that contains only students’ names or a blank sign-in sheet.

May I share photo rosters with the class?

You may share photo rosters but only with the students registered in the class.


Photos, Videos and Lecture Recordings 

When is a photo or video of a student an education record under FERPA?

As with any other “education record,” a photo or video of a student is an education record, subject to specific exclusions, when the photo or video is: 

(1) directly related to a student;

And

(2) maintained by the University or by a party acting on behalf of the University.

Are University video or audio recordings of classroom lectures protected student education records?

If a recording made by the University includes only the instructor, it is not a student education record.

If the recording made by the University identifies students, then the portions containing recordings of students do constitute protected educational records.

I want to use an online tool or application to record my lecture. However, I am worried that it is a violation of FERPA. What should I do?

Use of some applications or services may introduce security or privacy vulnerabilities into the University systems.

To ensure appropriate protection of student education record information and promote a safe, secure computing environment, only virtual collaboration platform(s) selected and approved by the University for conducting classes and delivering lectures should be used when recording classes and lectures.

Refer to Tools for Instructional Continuity and the GW Guidance for use of Virtual Meeting, Event or Collaboration Platforms for more information.

Faculty and staff should check with their IT support team to see if the application or service is approved for use in the classroom.

How can I protect student personal information if I want to disclose a video recording of my class session that features students?

If you do not have the student's consent, you may only share the recording within one of the limited circumstances noted above.

If your proposed disclosure does not fall within one of the limited circumstances, you must either obtain the student's written consent or remove their likeness, name and audio from the recording.

For more information, contact the GW Privacy Office.

Should I notify students prior to recording my class/lecture?

You should notify students in advance about recording classes/lectures.

Notification can be included in the course syllabus. Example:

Courses/lectures may be audio/video recorded and made available to other students in this course. As part of your participation in this course, you may be recorded. 

If you have privacy concerns, please contact the GW Privacy Office.

A student has opted out of directory information and wants to be anonymous in an online course. Am I required to allow the student to take the course anonymously?

No, a student may not use his or her right to opt out of directory information disclosures to prevent school officials from identifying the student by name or disclosing their electronic identifier or institutional e-mail address in class.

Can students who opted out of directory information still be recorded in class?

Yes, as long as the students are de-identified or the recording is not shared outside the class roster.

May an instructor post a recording that includes student participation for other class members to view or listen to?

Yes, if access to the recording is limited to students in the same class.