Rep. Bonamici Questions Gap in College Students’ Medical Privacy

Mar 11, 2015 Issues: Education

Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) today questioned a gap in current federal law that appears to inadequately protect the privacy of medical records of college students.

In a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education, Congresswoman Bonamici asked for clarification about whether current federal law permits sexual assault victims’ medical and therapy records to be released as part of a student’s education record.

“Campus sexual assault is a serious issue,” Congresswoman Bonamici said. “I am troubled that there appears to be a loophole in federal privacy law that allows the personal and private conversations a student has after a traumatic experience to be released by a university under the laws governing educational records. Students who seek treatment on campus deserve the same level of privacy as other patients, whose medical records are protected under federal health law.”

Congresswoman Bonamici is a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“I plan to work with the Department of Education to help address this apparent loophole in federal law,” Congresswoman Bonamici said. “We must create a safe environment for students to report and seek treatment for sexual assault. Making sure that on-campus treatment will be kept confidential is an important step toward addressing campus sexual assault.”

Congresswoman Bonamici’s letter to the Department of Education is below. 

Kathleen M. Styles
Chief Privacy Officer
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C., 20202

Dear Ms. Styles:

Campus sexual assault is a widespread problem. Although I applaud the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to improve reporting and spur action on campuses, there is still work to do to make sure victims of sexual assault are assured access to confidential services. I was deeply troubled to learn that the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) appears to permit colleges and universities to access a student’s private health records and, under certain circumstances, to release such records as part of her or his education record.

In response to this apparent gap in victims’ privacy protections, I respectfully request that you answer the following questions regarding the distinction between students’ “treatment records” and their “education records”:

  • FERPA regulations govern whether an institution may disclose students’ education records without consent (including treatment records that are deemed to be education records), but do any regulations or laws restrict an institution’s ability to access and share students’ treatment records within the institution?
  • Does federal regulation or guidance prevent students’ treatment records from being shared with other offices of an institution that are not involved in students’ treatment?
  • In addition, is there any guidance, regulation, or law that limits whether an institution may declare that a treatment record is being used for a non-treatment purpose or otherwise deem a treatment record to be an education record?

I look forward to receiving your response to these questions. And I look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure that victims of sexual assault on college and university campuses are well protected under the law.


Suzanne Bonamici
Member of Congress