Students provide information about their emergency contacts as part of the application process and it's important to realize those contacts are not always parents. Program leaders should not make direct, initial contact with family members without a student's permission. The student should be the one to communicate with his/her parents about any critical incident.
However, in certain situations, OSA may choose to inform emergency contacts about a potential emergency abroad without the student's permission, in consultation with the program leaders or on-site representatives. These situations would include when a:
The provisions of the Family Rights and Privacy Act (also known as FERPA or the Buckley Amendment), coupled with the age of majority at 18, often come into conflict with (1) the needs of OSA and program leader to have full information about the participants we serve, and (2) the desire of parents and OSA/MSU to be fully briefed when something goes wrong. This conflict is not unique to study abroad - the issue is also faced continually on campus - but it does pose a more delicate challenge for study abroad because of the heightened sensitivities and the distance. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education produced guidelines for university faculty and staff faced with the challenge of balancing privacy and student safety. A helpful brochure (PDF)* is also available.
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