COVID-19 Crisis Practices and FERPA Guidance on Remote Work and Virtual Learning

March 24, 2020
  • Advocacy
  • Online and Distance Learning
  • covid-19
  • education department
  • personal data
  • privacy
  • Student Records Management

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many of us to navigate through uncommon territory. As our member institutions move to remote working and virtual learning during this time of social distancing, we have received inquiries regarding student privacy, best practices on virtual access of student records, and how to ensure that institutions continue to adhere to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) under changing work environments.

The U.S. Education Department's Student Privacy Policy Office (SPPO) will host a FERPA & Virtual Learning Webinar on Monday, March 30, 2020 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM EDT to review some frequently asked questions on FERPA and implications for distance learning due to school closures. SPPO also shared updated guidance and available resources on virtual learning and FERPA. The guidance includes best practices on how to email student information and the importance of evaluating the risk associated with sending student information and recognizing if it is personally identifiable information (PII).

The department highlights its security best practices, which includes resources on safeguarding education records, such as:

Additionally, the recently-released FERPA and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) FAQs document identifies questions for school officials regarding the health or safety emergency exception under FERPA in the context of COVID-19. A separate guidance document for interruptions of study related to the outbreak includes temporary waivers from the federal government and accreditors on new or expanded distance education programs.

We understand our members are working diligently to respond to the quickly evolving situation and AACRAO plans to provide additional guidance on these pressing topics in the near future.

- Mike