Privacy Laws & Access to Information
Southwestern University is committed to the safekeeping and accurate maintenance of student records. The University complies with all federal and state privacy laws, which impact the way the University communicates about students, with students, and with other interested parties.
INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION RECORDS
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of education records, including disciplinary records. FERPA establishes four fundamental rights of students; they are the rights to:
- Have access to their educational records
- Specify which third parties may access their records
- Challenge/correct information in their records, and
- Be informed of their privacy rights.
These rights apply to all students, regardless of age. Education records include nearly all records on a student maintained by the University, including grades, test scores, ID numbers, financial records, housing records, disciplinary records, class schedules, academic status, and more.
Under FERPA, once a student turns 18, parents no longer have access to the student’s education records. FERPA can cause frustration for parents, guardians, or spouses, who may believe that their relationship to the student entitles them to this information, and even for faculty who do not have a “legitimate educational interest” in the information (defined by the law as the need to review an educational record in order to fulfill one’s professional responsibility to the University).
To ease this frustration, students may sign a release (Parent Access to Student Information) in the Center for Academic Success and Registrar authorizing sharing of academic and/or financial information with a third party. In cases of disciplinary, housing, or other records, a release for a specific topic or limited time period can be signed in the Student Life office. Without such a release, the University will not make exceptions to FERPA. In some specific circumstances (for example, when “disclosure is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals”), FERPA does allow for exceptions, and in these cases the University may disclose information from a student’s educational records to appropriate parties without a release from the student.
The University retains the right provided under FERPA to release “directory information” without prior consent from the student. Southwestern University considers the following information to be “directory information:”
- Name, phone number, mailing address and email address.
- Date and place of birth.
- Year in college.
- Prior educational institution attended.
- Major field of study.
- Dates of college attendance and full-time status.
- Scholarships and awards received.
- Weight and height of members of athletic teams.
- Participation in officially recognized activities and sports.
More information, including frequently asked questions about FERPA, can be found at the US Department of Education’s Website.
INDIVIDUAL MEDICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL RECORDS
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), passed in 1996, established national standards for the protection of certain medical records. Under HIPAA’s Privacy Rule, all “individually identifiable health information” held or transmitted by a covered entity (medical care provider) may not be used or disclosed, except either:
- As the Privacy Rule permits or requires (for treatment and payment purposes; for law enforcement purposes, including the abuse or neglect of a child and if someone is a risk of harm to themselves or someone else); or
- As the individual who is the subject of the information (or the individual’s personal representative) authorizes in writing.
In addition to the duty imposed by federal law (HIPAA), Health Care professionals are also bound by state law, by regulatory bodies, and by the ethical standards of their professions. Students who wish to have their medical and/or psychological records shared with a third party may sign a release in the Counseling and Health Center.
PUBLIC INFORMATION AND AGGREGATE RECORDS
Crime on or Near Campus
The Jeanne Clery Act (1990) requires all colleges and universities who receive federal funding to share information about crime on campus and their efforts to improve campus safety, as well as to inform the public of crime in or around campus. Southwestern publishes an Annual Security & Fire Safety Report to make this information publicly available.
Requests for Information
Under the Texas Education Code 51.212 subsection (f), information relating solely to law enforcement activities of a campus police department are subject to the Texas Public Information Act, Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code. Requests for this type of information may be made by emailing email@example.com, or by contacting Southwestern’s Emergency Communications Coordinator.