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I had to medically withdraw from one semester at an American university due to documented illness. My transcripts indicate that the withdrawal is due to a medical reason. Can I use FERPA or other American privacy laws to censor this information from my transcripts? The withdrawal was during the COVID-19 pandemic but the illness is unrelated to it.

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    Perhaps better asked of a lawyer.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 18, 2020 at 0:42
  • studentprivacy.ed.gov/node/548/#0.1_se34.1.99_120 May be a starting point
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 18, 2020 at 0:45
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    It is better to have a withdrawal with a reason than a withdrawal without a reason on your transcript. I see no possibility of the withdrawal being removed, as the point of transcripts is to record such things. Aug 18, 2020 at 1:01
  • @JonCuster: You'd have to argue that the mere phrase "medical reasons" violated your privacy, which I don't think the university (or for that matter a court) is likely to agree with. Aug 18, 2020 at 3:34
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    FERPA already gives you privacy by forbidding the university from releasing your transcript to anyone without permission from you. It doesn't give you the right to dictate what goes or doesn't go on your transcript (obviously!) though it does give you rights to have errors corrected. There are medical privacy laws, but I don't think "withdrew for medical reasons" is enough detail to violate those. Aug 18, 2020 at 6:36

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I shared my question on avvo.com, which is a website that connects individuals with experienced lawyers amongst other things. Two education law attornies from Colorado and Massachusetts responded to my question on avvo.com:

No, FERPA does not give you any authority to control what appears in your educational records. It limits who the school can release your records to, but it does not direct what information the school keeps in your records.

No. A medical withdraw is not, in and of itself, a type of confidential information as that status is generic in nature. The school would be prevented from disclosing the specific nature of the medical issue (that is more a [HIPAA] issue). As stated in the other answer, FERPA control who can see your educational records, it doesn't necessarily control the content. The issue is like credit reporting. A person's credit report can contain medical debt that is in collection. The mere fact that a person sought medical treatment or has medical issues is not confidential.

Reference: https://web.archive.org/web/20200819212608/https://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/can-ferpa-privacy-laws-be-used-to-censor-informati-4958767.html

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    Note that in the answer on another site you received, the person answering has incorrectly written "HIPPA" rather than "HIPAA". Could be an honest mistake, but I would doubt that someone who doesn't know the acronym for the single most important medical privacy law in the US is an expert in that area, regardless of their star rating and regardless of whether it turns out they are correct. Also importantly: HIPAA doesn't apply to educational institutions. So that's strike 2 for them.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 19, 2020 at 21:55
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  • @BryanKrause Thank you for the remark. I agree that the first typo was probably an honest mistake. Since HIPAA doesn't apply to educational institutions, that doesn't detract from the essence of the attorneys' answer, which is that the transcripts cannot be modified.
    – John Doe
    Aug 19, 2020 at 22:15
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    The answers don't say the transcripts cannot be modified, they say that FERPA does not mandate that they be modified.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 19, 2020 at 22:16
  • @BryanKrause So there is still a possibility that some privacy laws can be used to mandate that my transcripts be modified. That's definitely an interesting research topic. However, since the attornies didn't recommend anything, I personally wouldn't pursue the question any further.
    – John Doe
    Aug 19, 2020 at 22:19

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