Student Life Disability Services unintentionally reveals students’ disability status in bulk email, violates FERPA

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An email sent by disability services violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by revealing students’ disability status to each other. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

The assistant director of Ohio State Student Life Disability Services violated federal law by unintentionally disclosing private student information in a program-wide email to hundreds of students.

Adam Crawford, assistant director of SLDS and interim exam services coordinator, violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by copying about 399 students in an Oct. 5 email obtained by The Lantern. He revealed each student’s disability status to one another while he introduced himself as acting access specialist as the university undergoes its search for a permanent replacement.

According to the U.S. Department of Education , FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records, including disability and any other health-related information.

After a recipient of the email responded that it was a “huge violation of privacy,” Crawford asked the individual to delete the email.

“Please delete the original email with the subject line starting with ‘Update’ as this was sent in error and I accidentally did not BCC folks as I intended,” Crawford said in the email. “I sincerely apologize for this error. I resent the email without the ‘Update’ part in the subject line and recalled the original email for those recipients that I could.”

Crawford did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the time of publication.

University spokesperson Dave Isaacs said in an email the university takes student privacy “very seriously” and has a process for when such errors occur. He said Disability Services has asked students to delete the original email and sent a replacement with recipients blind copied, which would not show a recipient who else received the email.

“The Director of Student Life Disability Services, the university’s ADA [Americans with Disability Act] Coordinator and the Office of the Chief Information Officer have all been notified,” Isaacs said. “We have also reminded team members of the importance of student confidentiality and to use caution when sending bulk emails.”

Another student responded to the email asking Crawford not to copy students in future emails due to privacy concerns.

“I do believe it violates my and other students privacy as it reveals them to be someone needing accessibility services to people they do not consent to knowing,” the student said in the email.

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