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    Boston University WON’T tell professors if a student has COVID-19 because of privacy concerns

    Boston University WON’T tell professors if a student has COVID-19 because of privacy concerns – despite experts relaxing the rules due to the pandemic

    • Boston University will not notify professors if students test positive for coronavirus due to privacy concerns
    • The only exceptions will be for individuals who are identified as a close contact through the university’s contact tracing process 
    • They went with the decision not say if a student tested positive in hopes they will be more likely to provide information to help them with contact tracing 
    • Coronavirus has infected 128,533 people and killed 9,060 in Massachusetts
    • In total, 40 out of 30,347 tests from BU returned positive and 242 were invalid
    • On August 30 they reported one positive and eight invalid results out of 1,947

    Boston University has announced that it will not notify professors if students test positive for coronavirus due to privacy concerns.

    The decision was shared last month despite updated FERPA rules relaxing in March when the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic.

    It’s one of many in the country to opt against sharing whether a student has the contagious disease that has infected 128,533 people in Massachusetts and killed 9,060 in the state.

    As classes are set to resume on Wednesday, Dr. Jean Morrison, University Provost and Chief Academic Officer, wrote in a memo that in recent weeks the school had received requests from faculty who would like to be automatically notified in the event that a student in one of their classes tests positive for COVID-19.

    Boston University will not notify professors if students test positive for coronavirus due to privacy concerns

    . They went with the decision in order to encourage students to share information with them with confidence they will not be identified. The only exceptions will be for individuals who are identified as a close contact through the university's contact tracing process. File image

    . They went with the decision in order to encourage students to share information with them with confidence they will not be identified. The only exceptions will be for individuals who are identified as a close contact through the university’s contact tracing process. File image

    However Morrison said after spending ‘a great deal of time’ reviewing the relevant data, looking at best practices at other institutions, reviewing privacy law, and considering what is best for the community, they opted against sharing the information.

    ‘It is clear from this comprehensive review that the health of our community – faculty, staff, and students – is best served by ensuring the strict privacy of everyone’s test status,’ Morrison wrote. 

    ‘Therefore, we have decided that we will not share individual-level information about positive test results with other members of our community.’

    The same rule applies to leaders of schools or colleges.

    The note added that only exceptions will be for individuals who are identified as a close contact through the university’s contact tracing process.

    Morrison said those who need to know in order to sanitize a particular area or assist the recovery of an individual who has tested positive are also exceptions.

    In total, 40 out of 30,347 tests have returned positive and 242 were invalid at Boston University. On August 30 they reported one positive and eight invalid results out of 1,947 tests

    In total, 40 out of 30,347 tests have returned positive and 242 were invalid at Boston University. On August 30 they reported one positive and eight invalid results out of 1,947 tests

    Coronavirus has infected 128,533 people and killed 9,060 in Massachusetts

    Coronavirus has infected 128,533 people and killed 9,060 in Massachusetts

    Those included would be people moving a residential student to isolation and delivering food and supplies.

    Morrison explained that they went with the decision to maintain the utmost privacy in order to encourage students to share information with them with confidence they will not be identified.

    Morrison said it was a vital part of how they are managing the contact tracing process.

    ‘If students do not feel their privacy is protected, they may be less likely to fully and honestly participate in contact tracing, putting us all at higher risk,’ Morrison wrote. 

    ‘While I understand the desire to seek out this information about your students, an effective contact tracing process requires a level of trust that we feel cannot be maintained if students know their testing status will be revealed to faculty or staff.

    Dr. Jean Morrison, University Provost and Chief Academic Officer (pictured), wrote in a memo that in recent weeks the school had received requests from faculty who would like to be automatically notified about cases

    Dr. Jean Morrison, University Provost and Chief Academic Officer (pictured), wrote in a memo that in recent weeks the school had received requests from faculty who would like to be automatically notified about cases

    ‘I know this decision will be a disappointment to some of you, but I hope that you understand that we have made this decision with the ultimate goal of keeping all faculty, staff, and students as safe as possible.’

    The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits educational agencies and institutions from disclosing personal identification information from students’ education record without the prior written consent of a parent or ‘eligible student,’ unless an exception to FERPA’s general consent rule applies. 

    Under the ‘health or safety emergency’ exception a school can ‘if the public health agency’s knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of students or other individuals.’

    However under the FERPA health or safety emergency exception, an educational agency or institution ‘is responsible for making a determination, on a case-by-case basis, as long as it is in a ‘non-personally identifiable form.’

    ‘For example, if an educational agency or institution releases the fact that individuals are absent due to COVID-19 (but does not disclose their identities), this would generally not be considered personally identifiable to the absent students under FERPA as long as there are other individuals at the educational agency or institution who are absent for other reasons,’ the Department of Education stated in March. 

    ‘However, we caution educational agencies or institutions to ensure that in releasing such facts, they do so in a manner that does not disclose other information that, alone or in combination, would allow a reasonable person in the school community to identify the students who are absent due to COVID-19 with reasonable certainty.’ 

    Boston University has been updating a dashboard of test results from July 27. 

    In total, 40 out of 30,347 tests have returned positive and 242 were invalid. On August 30 they reported one positive and eight invalid results out of 1,947 test results.

    BU said 22 students are currently in isolation, one is confirmed non-contagious and 17 have recovered.

    It’s not the only school with privacy concerns surrounding COVID-19.

    The University of Alabama, where 1,200 staff and students have tested positive have adopted a similar stance to BU.

    The University of Texas at Austin recently said it was deliberating if and when to notify someone that they’ve been in close contact with positive case.

    The University of Arizona said it hadn’t decided on whether to identify a positive case.

    NC State is sharing case-by-case counts in clusters and the University of North Carolina told student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, that it wouldn’t due to FERPA concerns.

    The University of Alabama, where 1,200 staff and students have tested positive have adopted a similar stance to BU. Rounders Bar, on The Strip, the University of Alabama's bar scene, is pictured August 15 after 20,000 students returned

    The University of Alabama, where 1,200 staff and students have tested positive have adopted a similar stance to BU. Rounders Bar, on The Strip, the University of Alabama’s bar scene, is pictured August 15 after 20,000 students returned

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