FERPA and Merged Course Sections in Brightspace

When sections are combined in Brightspace, UMaine is obligated to ensure that students’ information is properly protected under FERPA. The best practice for creating a single Brightspace course shell for multiple, distinct sections, is to combine the sections in question in MaineStreet. 

UMS general counsel has determined that, unless there is a legitimate educational interest that extends beyond convenience or time management for the instructor, merging course sections at the Brightspace level constitutes a violation of FERPA. General counsel has further determined that each campus Registrar is the authority of record on the campus’ interpretation of FERPA. 

Under FERPA, students’ specific schedules, including what courses and sections they are enrolled in, are considered protected non-directory information. Further, students may exercise their rights under FERPA to place a block on the release of any/all directory information (visible as a blue window shade icon in MaineStreet), including their names or the fact they are UMaine students at all. 

Accordingly, all students have a reasonable expectation that knowledge of their specific schedules will be unavailable to other students unless A) they voluntarily disclose that information themselves, or B) those other students have a legitimate educational need-to-know under FERPA. Students may gain such need-to-know by virtue of being enrolled in either the same section, or a course where multiple sections are fully integrated to the extent that all functions that involve interaction with other students (e.g. lectures, discussions, group projects, etc.) are conducted as if only one section existed.

Examples of courses where the integration standard is likely to be met include, but are not limited to, those where students enroll in sections using different subject codes based on their majors (e.g. counseling and psychology), undergraduate and graduate students are combined, or online synchronous and face-to-face sections meet together.

When course sections meet the above-listed criteria, or are otherwise determined to meet FERPA standards upon review by the Office of Student Records, they can be combined in both MaineStreet and Brightspace. Further, UMS general counsel has determined that for courses that need to be merged across UMS campuses (e.g. for collaborative degrees), a legitimate educational need exists to create a Brightspace-only merge.

In cases where none of the above-listed criteria or scenarios apply, CITL is able to offer three options to aid instructors while maintaining a FERPA-compliant Brightspace environment. For details on these options, please review the CITL LMS Course Shell Combine Request website: https://umaine.edu/citl/lms-combine-request/