Feds Express Concern Over Apparent FERPA Loophole

Last week, the U.S. Education Department's Chief Privacy Officer Kathleen Styles expressed concern over an apparent loophole in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that could allow colleges to view and release students' counseling records, The Oregonian reported.

Styles wrote a letter in reply to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) who had sought clarification of the federal law following the University of Oregon's controversial release of confidential health treatment records. The correspondence between Styles and the Democratic lawmakers began after school officials retrieved a student's therapy records from a campus counseling center when she sued the university for violating her civil rights in a sexual assault case.

In her letter, Styles responded to the lawmakers' questions surrounding the "interaction and application" of FERPA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). She wrote that while both HIPAA and FERPA "provide important privacy protections, we are concerned about the possibility that Ferpa may offer fewer confidentiality protections" than HIPAA "in the limited instances where institutions choose to share treatment records with their attorneys in conjunction with litigation between the student and the institution."

She concluded by saying that the department was reviewing the issue "to determine whether to release additional guidance on this subject."

Meanwhile, on the state level, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed legislation on Wednesday that strengthens privacy protections for sexual assault victims on campuses within the state, The Oregonian reported. The approved measure would require Oregon colleges and universities to adopt written policies for responding to sexual assaults involving students, faculty or staff members. The new law would require schools to provide written notification to victims who report sexual assaults, explaining their rights, legal options, campus services and state and community resources.

The legislation would also ensure the privacy of conversations with victim advocates and empowers survivors to determine when their stories may become public.

 

Related Links

The Oregonian

http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2015/06/feds_voice_concern_about_looph.html

Letter from the U.S. Department of Education

http://media.oregonlive.com/education_impact/other/wydenletter.pdf

The Oregonian

http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2015/06/gov_brown_signs_legislation_ma.html