Student information protected by FERPA


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The University of Iowa is under fire after the Des Moines Register revealed the university released student information to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for a gun permit check.

Natalie Williams

The University of Iowa has suspended their practice of sharing student information after an investigation revealed that the university had given information to the Johnson County sheriff’s office.

The information given had been for the background checks for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The Des Moines Register reported that the university was infringing on students rights by sharing academic information as well as information involving their medical history.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act law, all academic information is to be kept private to the student. This includes law enforcement unless the student is under an open investigation and the court subpoenas the information.

The FERPA law applies to all governmentally funded institutions, but Michelle Boettcher, assistant dean at Iowa State, said that every policy is open to interpretation and implementation and Iowa’s policy may differ from Iowa State’s.

Boettcher explained that before any information is given to an outside party, there is a long process and not everyone who asks is granted permission to see students’ information.

“Iowa State is guided by FERPA — we are not allowed to share information without legitimate purpose.”

Iowa State has a group of attorneys on campus that deal directly with these types of issues. The University Counsel provides legal advice and protection at Iowa State. Boettcher said any information sharing concerns goes to them.

“I don’t think this could happen at Iowa State,” Boettcher said.

Lt. Don Ellis, from the Story County sheriff’s office, said that the sheriff’s office has contacted Iowa State for information — but not for gun permits. “When we speak to other agencies to find information, it’s for an investigation for a certain crime.”

He said that the information acquired for the gun permit was pretty basic. Applicants fill out a questionnaire, issued by the state of Iowa, asking about their Iowa residency, criminal history and mental health.

After completion, the sheriff’s office is responsible to run a background check and make sure all the information is correct.

Any background checks needing information from outside institutions have to have permission from the student, Boettcher said.

Ellis said that they find the information from local files that they have at the sheriff’s office or jail records. Information such as health history and academics are not acquired from the university he said.

Thielen Student Health Center and Student Counseling Services have their own policies of information sharing under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act law.