FERPA for Faculty and Staff

UPDATE: FERPA and Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) FAQ’s

We have received several questions regarding staying in compliance with FERPA while the University moves to virtual instruction. We have answered the most frequent questions below, but if you need additional guidance, please email ferpa@gmu.edu.

I need a way to communicate with my students while they are off-campus. What tools and programs can I use that are compliant with FERPA?

You can use all programs officially approved by George Mason. A list of these programs is located here: https://its.gmu.edu/service/application-software/ 

If you want to use a program not listed in the above link, the Architectural Standards Review Board (ASRB) must approve it. The form is located here: its.gmu.edu/service/architectural-standards-review-board-asrb/

Can I require students to use their webcams during virtual classes?

Under FERPA, a student may not use his or her right to opt out of directory information disclosures to prevent school officials from identifying the student by name or disclosing the student’s electronic identifier or institutional e-mail address in class.  In many ways, utilizing webcams is much like attending in person classes, provided that use of any recordings meet all FERPA requirements.

To ensure that students are engaged and instructors can be responsive to the needs of their students, instructors can request that cameras be used whenever it is possible or practicable.

Students with unique circumstances, related to the need for accommodations, environment, personal needs, or technology that make an on-camera presence not practical are asked to confer with their instructor(s) so accommodations can be made to ensure that the student(s) will be properly engaged and participating in lessons while not visible.

Is there anything else I should know about staying FERPA Compliant while working remotely?

It is important to remember that FERPA is still fully in effect and there have been no changes made to FERPA and its academic rules and guidelines. Follow FERPA as you would if you were still working on campus.

Please follow all university guidance regarding instructional methods and always use your work email and student’s Mason email account for University business.

We realize the current circumstances may make it more challenging at times, and require more due diligence on our parts to ensure FERPA compliance, but if you have any concerns please email ferpa@gmu.edu.

Additional guidance from ITS on how to work safely and securely from home is located here: https://its.gmu.edu/help-support/workingremotely/

Where should student data be stored? Can I store it on my personal computer?

Student data and education records should not be stored on personal devices. Banner or Mesa share  are the best places to store FERPA records, but any George Mason approved cloud solution (such as OneDrive) is acceptable.  Files can also be saved your work devices until you are able to store in a more permanent solution.  Please avoid saving records on your personal device.

I’m concerned that one of my students may have been infected with COVID-19 and is not getting medical attention. What can I do?

If you determine there is an articulable and significant threat to the student, and it is necessary to disclose this information to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals, than you may alert an appropriate official of the situation.

Keep a record of your disclosure, including the specific information that was the basis for determining there was an articulable and significant threat, and who the disclosure was made to.

When Can I Access or Disclose Student Records?

  • No confidential hold has been placed on the students record
  • You are disclosing Directory Information.
  • The disclosure is to a Mason School Official with a Legitimate Educational Interest. ​
  • The disclosure is to officials of another school for purposes related to the student’s enrollment or transfer.
  • The disclosure is in connection with financial aid.
  • The disclosure is to an accrediting organization.
  • When complying with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena (escalate to University Counsel).

Who is a school official?

School Officials means any person or entity conducting institutional services or work on behalf of the University. School officials do not necessarily need to be paid employees of the University.

School officials may include (but are not limited to):

  • Faculty
  • Staff
  • Contractors/Consultants
  • Volunteers
  • Board members
  • Trustees
  • Administrators
  • Academic partners
  • Student workers
  • Students functioning in an official University capacity

​What is a Legitimate Educational Interest?

Legitimate Educational Interest means the need of a school official to access a student’s educational records in the course of performing his or her duties for the University.

A legitimate educational interest exists if:

  • The information is necessary for that official to perform appropriate tasks specified in his or her position description or by a contract agreement;
  • The information is used within the context of official George Mason University business and not for purposes extraneous to the official’s areas of responsibility;
  • The information is relevant to the accomplishment of some tasks or to a determination about the student; and
  • The information is used consistently with the purposes for which the data is maintained.

The release of any non-directory information about a student to any person without a legitimate educational interest violates federal and state law, as well as University regulations.

What is Directory Information?

Directory Information at Mason consists of the following:

  • Student Name
  • Major Field of Study
  • Dates of Attendance
  • Enrollment Status
  • Previous Institutions
  • Class Level
  • Degrees and Awards Received
  • Photographs
  • Participation in Officially Recognized Sports and Activities
  • Weight and Height of Athletes

Mason defines the following as Limited Directory Information:

  • *Student ID (G Number)
  • *Date of Birth

This information should only be used for verification purposes, such as to confirm a students identity over the phone, and in conjunction with a legitimate educational interest.

Should I respond to someone indicating they are performing a background check on a student in preparation for a job offer if the student has not provided written consent to release educational information?

  • Unless the student has placed a confidentiality flag on his/her record, you MAY provide directory information (including major, degree and awards received), but are NOT required to.
  • You can also provide personal observations you have of the student.
  • However, without written consent from the student, you cannot relay any other information from the educational record, including grades, GPA, etc.

May I release non-directory information to a federal agent who requests a copy of a student’s transcript or some other non-directory information.  The agent presents his badge and states he’s performing a background check.

  • A federal investigator must provide a consent form and present his badge before we release non-directory information about a previous or current student. Make a copy of the consent form and note the investigators name and badge number on the copy for your records. Then you may release the information requested by the investigator.
  • If the investigator asks to interview you in order to obtain additional information about the student, you may participate in the interview, but you are not required to do so.

What is a Confidential Hold?

  • A student can elect to prevent the release of all directory information by submitting the Request to Prevent Disclosure of Student Information form to the Office of the University Registrar.  
  • You will see the designation “confidential” on class rosters for these students.
  • Faculty and staff may share information as needed and contact the student regarding school/class business, but should not release any student information, including directory information.
  • Students with the confidential indicator should be not included in group e-mails to your class in a way that shares their email (Bcc all group emails).
  • A student may have many reasons for applying this hold, including reasons related to personal safety, so it is important to avoid any inadvertent release of student information.
  • Please contact ferpa@gmu.edu if you have any questions about whether a student has a confidential hold on their student record, or if you may release their information.

What are acceptable methods for returning papers or exams?

  • While you may return papers and/or examinations by mail, the safest practice is to return papers personally to the student or utilize Blackboard.
  • Never ask students to pass out graded work.
  • Do not post student grades on a wall or leave graded assignments in a box outside an office

Does Mason require FERPA training?

  • All George Mason University employees who handle or have access to education records, including all instructional/research and administrative/professional faculty, must complete FERPA training session upon employment, and then every two years.
  • FERPA training is also required to receive Banner access.
  • Every individual doing any work on behalf of Mason must comply with policies and guidelines set forth by FERPA, Mason, Virginia and the Federal Government.

What are the consequences for violating FERPA?

The consequences for violating FERPA include:

  • Loss of all federal funding
  • A formal complaint to the Department of Education
  • Disciplinary action by Mason, up to and including termination

What is the Solomon Amendment?

The Solomon Amendment is a federal law that requires institutions of higher education to provide “student recruitment information” for all students who are at least seventeen (17) years of age and enrolled for at least one credit hour at their institution to military recruiters. The Department of Education has determined that the Solomon Amendment supersedes FERPA and even if a university has a policy of not releasing student directory information it is obligated comply with requests for “student recruiting information”.

Students are not permitted to restrict the release of their “Student Recruiting Information” specifically to the military, but if a student choses to withhold the release of all directory information under FERPA by completing the Request to Prevent Disclosure of Student Information colleges may not release it to the military either.

At Mason student recruiting information includes the following:

  • Name
  • Address (permanent)
  • Telephone (permanent)
  • Email
  • Age
  • Major
  • Level or UG Class (GR, Senior, Junior, ND, etc.)

Procedure for Requesting Student Recruiting Information


Solomon Amendment Request

Requests for “student recruiting information” can be made online using our Solomon Amendment Request Form for each of the 12 eligible units within the five branches of service:

Army: Army, Army Reserve, Army National Guard

Navy: Navy, Navy Reserve

Marine Corps: Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reserve

Air Force: Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air Force National Guard

Coast Guard: Coast Guard, Coast Guard Reserve

If you prefer, you may send requests via fax or postal mail, on military letterhead which clearly identifies the military recruiting branch or office to:

Office of the University Registrar
4400 University Drive, MSN 3D1
Fairfax, VA 22030
Fax: 703-993-4668

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