Joan Todd confirmed that the university retention office sent emails to students on Jan. 10 containing the names of students on academic probation . Schools cannot disclose this information without written consent from the eligible student. Breanna Daugherty // DN File
University sends 'accidental email,' violates federal privacy law
An email sent out Tuesday did more than just inform students about their academic status.
Students who earned a GPA below 2.0 were notified in December about their academic progress, and on Jan. 10, another email was intended to inform students about ways to improve their GPAs.
But university spokesperson Joan Todd confirmed that the university retention office sent emails to students on academic probation containing the names of other students on academic probation.
If students believe that a school has improperly disclosed their personally identifiable information from their education records to a third party, they can complete an online FERPA complaint form.
The email, Todd said, contained a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of 59 students on academic probation for the spring semester. Next to each student's name on the list was their GPA, phone number, university email and Ball State ID number. Originally, the email was supposed to contain an attachment reminding students about upcoming academic help sessions.
"Just the contact email was supposed to go to the individual 59 students on that list," Todd said. "But what happened was that Excel spread sheet was inadvertently forwarded just to those 59 students."
The Daily News has spoken with several students on academic probation for the Spring 2017 semester who have not received the email with the attachment, however.
To comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools can generally not disclose "personally identifiable information from an eligible student's education records to a third party" without written consent from the eligible student.
A representative from the U.S. Department of Education's Family Policy Compliance Office confirmed with the Daily News that the distribution of the list of students and their information — although unintentional — does violate FERPA. However, specifics about what could happen next — legally or otherwise — were not available.
"I don’t have an answer about the FERPA violation," Todd said. "I know the compliance office issued an apology to the students and called each of the students."
Following the accidental email attachment, Todd said the university also made phone calls to all 59 students who reportedly received the list.
"Part of the reason the phone calls were made was to suggest to [students who received the list] — encourage them — not to forward it," Todd said. "So if other students got it, it's because the students of the 59 forwarded it."
Nonetheless, Todd said the university is very apologetic about what happened and emphasized that this was a mistake.
"There is human error from time to time," Todd said. "It is very unfortunate that it happened."
This story will be updated.