Dept. of Education Issues ‘Dear Colleague Letter’ About Student Privacy

The letter addressed a situation Oregon University faced in March when it used a student’s mental health records in court.

The U.S. Department of Education outlined changes to the way colleges should handle students’ private information in a “Dear Colleague Letter” released August 18.

The letter clarified aspects of The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, and urged colleges to adjust their student privacy policies as necessary to comply with the law, according to

Specifically, the letter addressed instances where colleges are in court with students and further explained the “school official exception” in FERPA. The letter states that FERPA’s exceptions “should be construed to offer protections that are similar to those provided in medical records in the context of litigation between a covered health care provider and a patient under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).”

The letter allows student’s medical records to be disclosed only after the college receives a court order or written consent from the student.

The letter is likely a response to an incident in March when Oregon University used a student’s mental health records, including notes from her therapy sessions at the school, in a case where the student was suing the school. Oregon received criticism from employees and students following the incident.

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