11

Is it illegal to share students' grades with somebody else (e.g their parents) without their consent in the US? What are the most common penalties for such a violation of privacy? Is jail time possible as a punishment?

12
  • 6
    This may depend upon what country you are in, and the rules of your academic institution – that's where you should start asking questions. Jun 10, 2013 at 13:20
  • @DaveClarke: I am talking about the US. For example, what is the policy at your institution? Jun 10, 2013 at 13:29
  • 1
    Can you change your question to reflect that? Can you also put the title question within the body and make the title somewhat shorter, yet covering the contents of the whole question? Jun 10, 2013 at 13:32
  • 4
    It's not clear what you're getting at. Is this a theoretical question about what could happen (but won't), or a practical question? For example, in the U.S. it is illegal to share university grades with anyone else (the law is called "FERPA"). I have no idea whether the theoretical penalties could include jail, but it's inconceivable that anyone would actually be jailed for sharing grades with a student's parents. Jun 10, 2013 at 13:33
  • 1
    Does this question need to exist in the first place? In the US, it is illegal so why would you feel the need to share grades to non students.
    – Shion
    Jun 10, 2013 at 17:39

3 Answers 3

24

In the US the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of students. This "act" is not a law (on further reading it is a law), but rather a stipulation by the Department of Education that universities must obey in order to receive funding. As such, I do not believe that violations are classed as a criminal offense and hence cannot lead to jail time. Universities which violate the FERPA can lose their funding and likely have grounds to dismiss employees who violate the act. The university might even be able to seek damages against those individuals, but again, not jail time.

I would suggest that you not violate FERPA. If you intend to, or have done so (accidentally or otherwise), I suggest that you seek legal advice.

2
  • 4
    +1 for seek legal advice. In addition to the institution seeking damages, the the student(s) can seek civil damages from the institution and the individual who disclosed the information.
    – Ben Norris
    Jun 10, 2013 at 19:29
  • +1 also for the same reason Ben Norris gave - seek legal advice - this would apply in any country.
    – user7130
    Jun 11, 2013 at 10:02
9

A number of people have mentioned FERPA. Looking at the text of FERPA and at this University web page suggests what some others have said: violations of FERPA can result, ultimately, in withholding funding from the university but the law does not list criminal sanctions for either individuals or institutions for violation. That is also my understanding.

That said, there other privacy laws or other kinds of laws that might be violated by disclosure of educational records. There are a variety of other state, local, and federal laws — plus plenty of common law tort law, that could take effect. And besides, people sue for all kinds of things including things that aren't even in violation of a law.

To be clear: I am not a lawyer nor a legal expert and this is not legal advice. But, as a non-lawyer that likes to believe that world has certain common-sense limits, it seems insane to suggest that telling a parent a grade could result in jail time. If you're worried and need a "real" answer, you should find a lawyer and ask.

1
  • 2
    It also seems even more insane that a university would risk their funding by allowing the faculty to violate FERPA.
    – DLS3141
    Oct 12, 2015 at 20:03
9

This is not legal advice... If only people giving mathematical or dietary advice without credentials could be sued for failing to make a similar disclaimer! :)

There are two parts to this issue. First, is it ok to tell people students' grades? In the U.S., almost entirely "no", if the student is 18 or older. FERPA. It doesn't matter whether or not the student's parents are paying the tuition, the student's grades are privileged personal information.

It is acceptable use to disclose student grades for (e.g.) intra-math-departmental function, such as advising, admission committee work, and other "privileged" use.

A traditional practice that is no longer ok is posting grades on instructors' doors, for example.

For "old" people, the idea that one is not in fact legally entitled to know the grades of the student whose tuition you're paying will seem strange. Indeed, decades ago, the grades were sent to the parents directly, in paper mail.

But, now, 18-or-over people are essentially legal adults in the U.S., and their school records (and medical records) are not automatically open to their parents.

Thus, despite intuition to the contrary, simply do not give grades to parents, ... without seeking legal advice about extenuating circumstances, such as emergencies.

Edit: but, then, "jail time"? Who knows? But maybe monetary damages if someone sues you for violation of their privacy rights. Apart from the risk of this, if we think it through, maybe kids' grades (if they're "adults") should not be divulged to anyone... So don't do it?

4
  • Parents can sign a contract with their children that the children must furnish their grades in exchange for disclosing their grades; but that is between parent and child, the child must provide the grade sheet to the parent themselves and not involve the school. This is also often a condition of many fellowships.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 20, 2016 at 6:00
  • 1
    @RoboKaren: Maybe I am trying to evangelize this message: According to www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/parents.html : " FERPA also permits a school to disclose personally identifiable information from education records [...] to his or her parents if the student is a "dependent student" as that term is defined in Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code. Generally, if either parent has claimed the student as a dependent on the parent's most recent income tax statement, the school may non-consensually disclose the student's education records to both parents." May 16, 2017 at 5:41
  • 1
    @Just_to_Answer .. that information is superseded by: " When a student reaches 18 years of age or attends a postsecondary institution, he or she becomes an "eligible student," and all rights under FERPA transfer from the parent to the student. "
    – RoboKaren
    May 16, 2017 at 7:52
  • @RoboKaren: The full statement of the first part does deal with "eligle student" also. Here it is: [Quote] FERPA also permits a school to disclose personally identifiable information from education records of an "eligible student" (a student age 18 or older or enrolled in a postsecondary institution at any age) to his or her parents if the student is a "dependent student" as that term is defined in Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code. [end Quote] May 16, 2017 at 14:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .