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The Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering has implemented a new homework and exam submission and distribution system. The new system will better protect the privacy of students and comply with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, according to an email sent to students in ORFE courses on Nov. 1.

Passed in 1974, FERPA protects the privacy of student education records and applies to all schools that receive federal funding, according to the U.S. Department of Education website. Under FERPA, students and parents have the right to “inspect and review” the student’s education records and the right to request that the school correct school records that they believe to be “inaccurate or misleading.

Under the new policy, students submit their homework into the corresponding course's locked boxes in the undergraduate lounge with slots labeled "IN/OUT" and retrieve graded assignments from individually-labeled folders. Assignments not submitted through Blackboard now also require cover sheets with students’ names, course number and assignment title. Extra cover sheets are provided in the undergraduate lounge for students who forget to bring their own.

The ORFE department, when reviewing the department’s policies, came to the “realization that we were not … as discreet as we could be with the return of homework,” ORFE professor Alain Kornhauser said, although he emphasized that there were no specific problems with the process in the past.

Before the change, students would turn homework into open boxes, according to ORFE concentrator Will Harrel ’13.

“We were cleaning things up, and we decided, might as well clean this one [policy] up too,” Kornhauser said.

Despite student speculation that the policy change was brought on by students looking through their peers' grades or taking others' work when submitting homework, ORFE concentrator Michelle Scharfstein ’15 said she has not noticed any problems. "I think with the Princeton Honor Code, it seems unlikely,” she said.

Her other classes, and other departments like computer science, hand back assignments in a pile, but Scharfstein said she has never noticed students looking through others' grades.

The additional requirement of a cover sheet does not add any inconvenience to students, Scharfstein noted. "I feel bad for the preceptors who are going to have to return [and] put everyone’s homework and exam into each person’s file,” she added.

Harrel noted that while he has never had his assignments or exams stolen, he has heard stories of an assignment or exam being taken, used or copied. "Given that they are changing the policy, there must have been an issue that some people were aware of. I never thought of it as an issue, but if they’re changing it there must be a reason, then it’s probably a good thing,” he said.

“I got the sense that Princeton tends to be pretty trusting, and students tend to handle that trust very well,” Harrel noted.

Student rights under FERPA forbid the University from disclosing students' "educational records" except to certain University officials. FERPA also allows students to review their own records.

According to the University's“Rights, Rules and Responsibilities,”Princeton students have “the right to inspect and review the student’s education records within 45 days of the day the University receives a written request for access,” “the right to request the amendment of the student’s education records that the student believes are inaccurate or misleading” and “the right to consent to disclosures of personally identifiable information contained in the student’s education records, except to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosures without consent.”

Neither FERPA nor the Rights, Rules and Responsibilities defines what the scope of “education records” includes, but excludes medical records, personal files of the faculty members and administration, security files, employment records, financial status of parents, confidential letters of recommendation submitted before 1974 or to which students have waived access. Medical records are protected separately under the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

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