Education Dept. Draft on Student Medical Records

August 19, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday unveiled draft guidance for colleges on how to handle the privacy of student medical records when they are part of a court case.

The guidance follows a high-profile case in which the University of Oregon obtained the campus therapy records of a student who sued the university for mishandling her report that she was gang-raped by three Oregon basketball players.

Many legal and privacy experts believed that the university’s handling of the records was legal because the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, doesn’t explicitly prohibit it. Many victims’ advocates and some members of Congress were outraged by the case, and urged the Education Department to close that “loophole.”

Kathleen Styles, the chief privacy officer at the Education Department, wrote in a blog post Tuesday that the department planned to tell colleges to handle the privacy of student medical records under FERPA similarly to the way health care providers and hospitals are required to treat such records.

“We want to set the expectation that, with respect to litigation between institutions of higher education and students, institutions generally should not share student medical records with school attorneys or courts, without a court order or written consent,” Styles wrote.

The department will accept public comments on the guidance until Oct. 2.

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