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FERPA makes MC students anonymous

September 13, 2010

Imagine for a second that you won the Nobel Prize, and no one else was allowed to know. Your picture would not be published in any newspapers, your name would not make headlines, and no interviews with you would appear on television. All the work you put in toward your achievements would amount to an award you could not get any recognition for.

If you are one of the 221 Monmouth College students that requested not to have their personal information disclosed under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act this situation might not be hard for you to imagine. When confirming enrollment for fall classes many students did not realize that when they checked the box on Monmouth’s of the FERPA disclosure page, they were forbidding the school from publishing anything about their academic or extracurricular achievements, even blocking any group pictures they might appear in.

This could cause considerable problems for the college and students alike, especially for people such as Jeff Rankin the college’s director of communications. “The bottom line is, because of what is essentially a misunderstanding by more than 200 students, we will not be able to publicize any of their achievements,” said Rankin. “They essentially became anonymous students.”

For example, last spring a group of Monmouth College chemistry students went on a trip to St. Louis, but because students who had requested “FERPA status” were on the trip, the college was unable to publicize any group pictures.

For the individual student, this also means that your name cannot appear in any programs for events such as band, choral or even plays. The college will not be able to list your name if you make the Dean’s List.

Rankin believes that the process of signing up was made too easy, and not enough information was given. Previously, all students would have to wait in line at different offices to sign a form, and they could not do anything else before they did. In recent years, however, the process has been done online. While this saves time and energy for both the college and students, it means that students are not forced to understand exactly what FERPA entails.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that was created and has been revised many times to “protect the privacy of student education records.” What this mainly entails is making sure that students are fully aware of their educational rights, and allowing them to decide whether or not they want to allow certain information about them to be released.  However, the wording of the act may have misled many students to believe that information such as their address and cell phone number would be released for anyone to see.

FERPA is not bad, it is a necessary law that protects the rights of students. Unfortunately, it is not always explained clearly.

According to the Registrar, Chris Johnston, the act refers to the information that the school is allowed to release as “directory” information. Many students believed this would allow anyone to find their cell phone number or other personal information either by request or from the schools directory, “The Redbook”.

“This isn’t true,” said Johnston. “The Redbook and the information released are two completely separate things”.  Students decide what information they want disclosed in the school directory separately.

Many students, like sophomore Arica Brazil, were misled by this statement. By choosing not to disclose her information, Brazil just thought she was preventing others from getting her address and cell phone number. In reality, Brazil is one of the 221 students who cannot have their achievements published. “I’m kind of bummed. If I’m in a picture or recognized for something, it won’t be published and no one will really know,” said Brazil. “I’m definitely going to change it.”

So what is the information used for? According to Johnston, the information disclosed not only allows the college to publicize individual achievements; it also allows the college to provide information necessary for studying abroad, internships and giving references.

While there are some students who want to take advantage of their right to privacy, for those who would like to allow the school to disclose their information, you can reverse your decision. If you are on the list of students who do not want their information disclosed, or you never even said yes or no, chances are you have received an e-mail from the registrar’s office confirming your decision. Otherwise, forms are available to sign at the Registrar’s office that will remove you from the list.

Assistant Online Manager

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