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Maintaining Confidentiality of Student Disability Information

Guidelines for Faculty

 

All disability-related information including accommodation letters, correspondence, and consultations are considered confidential and must be managed in line with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations. This includes electronic, paper, verbal, and any other types of communication.

In addition to fulfilling legal obligations, maintaining a high standard of confidentiality also serves to maintain an environment in which students with disabilities feel respected, safe, supported, and protected.

Breaches of confidentiality are taken very seriously by Washington State University. Unauthorized disclosures of student information must be documented and can result in the University being in non-compliance with federal regulations.  The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) may audit FERPA compliance and require corrective actions.  Additionally, such disclosures may violate state privacy laws and may subject the university and the individual to liability.

We recognize that disclosures of information are generally inadvertent. For this reason, a high level of vigilance to avoid unintentional but inappropriate disclosure of disability information must be maintained. Please contact Student Affairs if there are any questions, issues, or concerns regarding maintaining confidentiality of information.

Disability Services offers the following guidelines for faculty, staff, and administrators to ensure that confidential student information is kept secure:

  • All information that a student shares with a faculty member is to be used specifically for arranging reasonable accommodations for the course of study.
  • Do not leave student disability information visible on your computer or in any printed format that others can see.
  • Faculty Notification Letters should be filed in a safe place and disposed of securely at the end of the course.
  • Refrain from discussing a student’s disability status and necessary accommodations within hearing range of fellow students or others who do not have an “educational need to know.”
  • Do not assume that students registered with Disability Services are aware of other students’ disability status. If, for some reason, you feel it might be beneficial for students with disabilities to know each other, Disability Services is happy to discuss this further with you. However, the default action is to keep this information confidential.
  • When sending emails to a group of students, even if they are all registered with Disability Services, blind copy (bcc) students so they are not privy to other student’s information, or better yet, send separate emails to each student.
  • At no time should the class be informed that a student has a disability, except at the student’s request.
  • Discuss Faculty Notification Letters and logistics of implementing accommodations with students in private. Make yourself available by email, during office hours, or by appointment to discuss.
  • Casual conversations with colleagues about a student’s disability status are inappropriate. Confidential disability information, to which you have access, should be released to other faculty or staff based only on their need to know (e.g., they are a co-instructor in the course, they are proctoring an exam, they are arranging for exam space, they are assisting you to identify a note-taker in the course). In such cases, disclose only the necessary information. For example:
    • A course coordinator proctoring your exam would only need to know the student’s approved exam accommodation (e.g., 1.5 extended time and private room).
    • A TA who is providing Disability Services with a list of the required books for the course only needs to know that the book list is needed, not which student the request is related to.
    • A clinical supervisor only needs to know the approved on-site accommodations, not why the student requires them.
    • It is acceptable to communicate an anticipated number of students with testing needs to faculty in other blocks to aid in test administration pre-planning.
  • Requesting specific information about a student’s disability in inappropriate. Instead, faculty should focus any inquiry on how a student’s learning is impacted by their disability.
    • Requesting a letter from the student’s physician is inappropriate. The Letter of Accommodation is all that is needed to justify the accommodation and supersedes any letter from the student’s provider.
    • If a student voluntarily discloses the nature of a disability to you, even if it is obvious, do not disclose it to others.
    • If a student tries to provide you with primary disability documentation, refuse to read or accept it and refer the student to Disability Services. WSU has designated Disability Services as the repository of all disability documentation for students with disabilities.
    • Contact Disability Services if you have questions or concerns about the accommodation(s).
Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane