Ask the FERPA Professor

October 30, 2023
  • FERPA Professor
cartoon figure reminiscent of Einstein stands in front of a chalkboard with the board "FERPA" written on it

Dear FERPA Professor, 

Recently our School of Science, Engineering, and Health has started to offer a non-discipline-specific SCIE research course in which all Biology, Chemistry, and Physics majors who are doing senior research register. We have three separate science discipline academic departments – Biological Sciences; Biochemistry and Chemistry; Physics. These departments use the SCIE course to extract assessment data.
The SCIE course is owned by the School of Science, Engineering, and Health rather than a specific department. Past practice has been to ask the course instructor to link assessment rubrics to specific assignments. Our assessment office then receives the linked assessment data and provides anonymized data to the department chairs.
The department chairs are now asking if they may have “sub-account” access in our LMS to this SCIE course. Unfortunately, sub-account access will give the department chairs access to all other courses in the school. In my thinking, these department chairs do not have a need to access all courses in the school; therefore, this access would be a FERPA violation. Am I thinking about this correctly?

Ms. O'Neil

Dear Ms. O'Neil,

Your understanding of this issue would be correct if there is no legitimate educational interest in the other department chairs accessing the information.  FERPA requires that institutions limit access to student education records to those school officials who have a legitimate educational interest in such access.  See 99.31(a)(1)(ii) in the FERPA regulations. 

I hope this is helpful in answering your questions.  You can find the above-cited regulations on page 159 of the 2012 AACRAO FERPA Guide.

The FERPA Professor

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