Ask the FERPA Professor

August 23, 2020
  • FERPA
  • FERPA Professor
Dear FERPA Professor:  

Once again I come to you for clarification, this time regarding the appropriate use of “mass emails” to current or incoming students where all email addresses are put in the “to” field and are visible to any recipient of the email. 

I believe that a mass email is allowed under FERPA §99.3, (Directory Information) if the email address is the university-provided email and the student has not otherwise opted out of directory information disclosures.  But unless we check to see who is confidential, there is always the risk of including a confidential student and violating FERPA.  I’m arguing that best practice is to blind copy all recipients to protect the privacy of all. 

Is having the email address visible in the “to” field a violation of FERPA if a particular student has excluded him/herself from “directory” information?

As always, I’m grateful for any enlightenment you can provide.

Sincerely,

Liv Good


Dear Liv:

Concerning your question, and laying aside the question of whether it is a good practice, under directory information, the University would generally be permitted to include the name/email address of all recipients of the mass email, as long as both "name" and "email address" would have to be "directory information" designated items at the University.   (See §99.3 "Directory Information" on page 153, and specifically §99.37 on page 166, of the 2012 AACRAO FERPA Guide.) Also, as you noted, the names of any students who have opted out of directory information disclosures could not be included in the email, absent the written consent of those students.

The email address, if it is designated as directory information, would not necessarily need to be university provided. 

I hope this is helpful in answering your question.