If there’s any doubt about appropriate access to or release of education records, please contact us.
Understanding “legitimate educational interest”
Legitimate educational interest means the school official needs to review information in an education record in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities.
FERPA allows a UW–Madison school official to share information from a student’s education record without the student’s written consent, with other UW–Madison school officials who have a legitimate educational interest. This can include private nondirectory information and directory information that a student has otherwise restricted from release to third parties.
Disclosure of education record information to a UW–Madison school official having a legitimate educational interest does not constitute authorization for that person to transmit, share, or disclose any or all of that information to a third party who does not have a legitimate educational interest.
In the classroom
Maintain the privacy of all student academic work (paper and electronic) at all times: in your office, at home, and transit.
Email and social media
Use listservs or blind copy (BCC) when sending email to multiple students. Don’t put students’ personally identifiable information in your subject lines, email messages, or social media posts.
Papers, tests, and academic work
Give students a way to privately submit their papers and other academic work to you directly (e.g., in class) or in a secure location (your locked departmental mailbox). Return papers and other academic work directly to the student. Do not allow students to sort through materials that include classmates’ work, such as in a box outside an office door.
Do not share printed class lists or rosters that include student names, email addresses, etc., without getting permission from your students. Some of your students may have restricted access to that information. Do not include campus ID numbers on class lists.
Keep grades private. Do not post grades in public places or share with other students.
Course management systems
Students who participate in a course that uses a course management system (e.g., Canvas) may have access to personal information and academic work produced by other students and faculty members. FERPA and UW–Madison policy require that students and faculty not reveal any information about classmates, coursework content, or its authors, to anyone outside of the class.
Instructor recording and sharing class lectures
If a lecture recording only includes the instructor, the recording is not a student record and not considered protected by FERPA. If a recording includes student interactions (questions, presentations, etc.) and those students are identifiable, the recording would be a protected educational record. The recording could only be made available to the students in that specific class and/or to university officials with legitimate educational interest in that information – a genuine need for access to perform their duties. If the instructor wishes to further share the recording outside of the class, either identifiable students would have to provide written consent to release their participation or portions of the recording would have to be changed or omitted to avoid identifying students. But again, if no students are identifiable in any way (seen, heard or named), the recording would not be FERPA protected.
Student recording and sharing class lectures
Sometimes students record lectures or copy lecture materials (including your recording) and post them outside of class on internet sites or provide them to note sharing companies. These acts can violate intellectual property rights held by you and the university. UW System Board of Regent policy authorizes you to limit or restrict students from copying, recording or using instructional materials or lectures unless necessary to reasonably accommodate a student’s disability. [Regent Policy Document 4-1] If you wish to impose restrictions, you should inform students of the limitations and the potential consequences of being subject to charges of student misconduct. Notification can be made through your syllabus, a lecture, or by other means to ensure awareness.
Accessing and retaining records
Professional reasons only
Access education records only when there is a legitimate educational interest. You may not access education records for personal interests or for reasons that fall outside your professional responsibilities as a school official. Learn more about campus policies and procedures around restricted administrative data, including student education records.
Keep only the education records needed for the fulfillment of your professional responsibilities. Comply with your department’s policies and plan for record retention and disposal.
Releasing and sharing information
Education records, including student directory information that has been restricted, generally may not be released to anyone other than school officials without the written consent of the student.
FERPA flag ()
If you have access to the Student Information System (SIS) and if there is a FERPA flag on the student’s record, select the window-shade icon to see which kinds of data the student has restricted.
Unless it is another school official with a legitimate educational interest, do not share private or withheld student information with others, including other students, without first obtaining the student’s written consent. Written consent must: 1) specify the records to be released; 2) identify the party or class of parties to whom the records should be released; and 3) indicate the reason for the release. The Office of the Registrar provides a form for written consent.
Do not release to or discuss with parents or guardians a student’s education records without the written consent of the student. At all post-secondary institutions, including UW–Madison, parents and guardians do not have a legal right to their child’s education records, even if that child is a minor.
Letters of recommendation
Because a letter of recommendation will likely reference information in the student’s education record, please get written consent from the student first.
Student safety and emergencies
The Dean of Students Office coordinates reporting and interventions for “students of concern”: any student who is displaying behaviors that may interfere with a student’s ability to be successful at the University or disrupts the learning of others. FERPA allows school officials to share critical information about students of concern with appropriate parties. Please read more information provided by the Dean of Students.