As students and professors across the country navigate online and hybrid learning, platforms like Zoom have been a helpful tool in the virtual classroom. 

The method students are learning may have changed, but the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) still manage regulations for online classes. FERPA allows student data and educational records to be protected, including governing how certain types of photographs and videos might be used.

“If professors are working remotely, they might need to have student records at home. The U.S. Department of Education says this is OK, as long as there’s a legitimate need to have the records at home and the professor uses ‘reasonable methods’ to protect the information,” Elizabeth Sedrel, spokeswoman for Iowa College Aid, said. “For instance, a professor discussing grades with a student must make sure no one else in their household hears protected personal information during that discussion.”

More than a month into classes back on campus, students have received little information from the college on how their privacy is being managed. Professors have been required to include this information on syllabi, but there has been no official word from the college on how student data and educational records are being protected. 

“In regards to FERPA and COVID, that was required on the syllabus for each professor,” Sheree Covert, registrar, said. “But in general, all students received a notice of it at the start of the academic year in an email that was sent out from the registrar’s office.” 

Information regarding the FERPA policy for the 2020-21 academic year was also mentioned in the Wartburg student handbook, which can be found at info.wartburg under the “Student Life” tab. 

While this information was sent out to students and was presented in syllabi across campus, there is a lack of understanding of FERPA.

“I was mostly told in my classes [on the first day] what happens in Zoom can’t be shared with other people,” Emilee Landtiser, first-year student, said.

Nathan MacDonald, third-year student, remembered seeing FERPA explained in his classes’ syllabi but never entirely processed what that information meant. 

“I think with all that’s going on people just kind of brush over that stuff,” MacDonald said. “I think making it more accessible so students know it’s an actual thing would really help in the process of understanding it.”

Covert and Dr. Loni Abbas, assistant vice president for information and technology services & chief information officer, began working on training modules for faculty and staff to better understand FERPA and planned to release the module during Fall 2020, according to Covert.

Due to COVID, the plans were cut short, but Abbas said the training modules will be available within the near future. Covert and Abbas said they have both considered including the training module to be an option for students to take to help with understanding FERPA as a college student.

“There are some really neat screens [in the modules] in there that really kind of lay out some examples that are helpful to a student to know how you allow your parents to have access to specific things and how that’s supposed to work,” Abbas said. 

A student can request a complaint form by calling (202) 260-3887. To protect privacy, the U.S. Department of Education will not discuss complaints by email. To request further information about FERPA or to have any additional questions answered by the college, contact Covert at sheree.covert@wartburg.edu



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