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Frequently Asked Questions

Public institutions have a responsibility to ensure personal information about their clients is protected, and to facilitate timely public access to information or decision-making of a general nature. 

Our policy - click here.

Notice of Disclosure - click here. 

Question 1. What information held by St. Lawrence College is covered under FIPPA?

ANSWER: A range of personal, business and research information such as:

  • Student information, including student number, academic records
  • Emails, electronic documents, paper documents
  • Staff information, including personnel records
  • Information relating to contracts, vendors, operational plans
  • Alumni information contained in our Alumni database

Note that Health records fall under separate legislation (PHIPA –Personal Health Information Protection Act)

Question 2. What personal information of staff or students can be shared between employees in departments/Schools?

ANSWER: Information that is necessary in the performance of the job duties may be acquired from sources that hold the information.  The staff who obtain the information are required to maintain the confidentiality of the information.

Question 3.  Where do I find St. Lawrence College’s Freedom of Information Officer?

ANSWER: The Freedom of Information Officer is located in the Executive Office, and can be reached at ext. 3113 or by email to:  privacyoffice@sl.on.ca.  The Senior Vice President, Corporate Services is responsible for SLC’s compliance under FIPPA.  St. Lawrence College is under strict time limits in relation to compliance with FIPPA: therefore staff who receive access requests, must immediately forward the request(s) to the Freedom of Information Officer. 

Question 4.  If the police contact me about a student, what can I tell them?

ANSWER:  Refer all enquiries from police to the campus Security Office.  Security will deal with the enquiry, file appropriate reports and notify the Freedom of Information Officer.  There are exemptions in FIPPA for releasing personal information to law enforcement officers, however such enquiries must be handled centrally – hence the campus security office will coordinate the college response.

Question 5. What information about an employee or student can I provide in response to an employer’s (or potential employer’s) request for reference information?

ANSWER: Reference information can only be provided if you have the explicit (in writing) consent of the employee or student.  We have forms that are given to students to sign authorizing St. Lawrence College to respond to reference queries.  Employees are required to provide written consent (i.e. completion of the Reference Check Consent Form for internal positions) or an email/note if it is for an external employer.

Question 6. If a bank, insurance company, collections agency, credit bureau or a government office contacts me about an employee or student, what information can I release?

ANSWER:  None.  Refer the caller to Human Resources, who prepare specific letters if requested by the individual.  If the request is about a student, redirect the caller to the appropriate Academic Operations Manager.

Question 7.  What is the legal age that a student can sign a consent form?

ANSWER:  For students who are under the age of 16, both the student and a parent (or the person having lawful custody) should sign the consent form.  For students aged 16 years or over, the student should sign the consent form – consent of the parent or person having lawful custody is not required.

Question 8.  As a professor, under what circumstances can I request a note from a student’s doctor to verify a medical reason for absence?

ANSWER:  Some course outlines state that medical documentation is required under certain circumstances to validate reasons for absence.  Students with Disabilities should work through their AccessAbility counselor regarding this requirement.  Some programs also state such requirements in program manuals.  Also refer to item 6.1 in Academic Policy.

Question 9. How much information can be shared amongst students in a class?

ANSWER: Names and St. Lawrence College email addresses may be shared for purposes of group work. Beyond that, students should decide what personal contact information they choose to share with classmates.

Question 10. If someone asks me where a student can be found (i.e. scheduling information), may I release the information from his/her timetable?

ANSWER: No.  However, if it is an emergency situation, you must offer to contact the student yourself (or with staff assistance) and ask the student to contact the requestor.

Question 11. What information about a student may I release to his or her parents/legal guardian/spouse when they request it?

ANSWER: None, unless the student signs a Student Consent Form.  Although parents/legal guardians/spouse may believe they have a right to a student’s attendance and/or academic record, especially if they are paying the tuition, such information may be shared with a parent/legal guardian/spouse only with the student’s explicit written consent.

Question 12. What kind of release would I have to get to allow me to speak with the parents/legal guardians/spouse of a student about his or her academic progress or situation at St. Lawrence College?

ANSWER: The student’s consent may be oral if they are in attendance with parent/legal guardian/spouse, or the student must complete and sign a Student Consent Form.   

Question 13. I need a consent form for the collection of information about students for field placement (or other purposes that may arise).  Where can I get help?

ANSWER:  Contact your Associate Dean or Manager, Academic Operations to discuss what information you need to collect and why.  They will assist you in ensuring that the appropriate wording and references to legislation are included on the form. Associate Deans and Managers, Academic Operations may contact the Freedom of Information Officer for assistance/support if required.

Question 14. Are examinations, assignments and grades considered personal information under FIPPA?

ANSWER:  Yes.  In a post-secondary context, personal information includes students’ papers, assignments, tests and examinations, grades and academic standing, and professors’ evaluative comments on their work.

Question 15.  How long should assignments, tests and exams be retained?

ANSWER:  Assignments, tests and exams that are not returned to the student must be retained for a minimum of one year after last use so that the student has a reasonable opportunity to obtain access to them.  Beyond the one year retention requirement, assignments, tests and exams may be retained by Schools only so long as there is operational need for them, and then confidentially destroyed by shredding.

Question 16.  What practices should be followed in collecting and returning student work?

ANSWER:  To protect individuals’ privacy, students’ work should be collected with adequate supervision and security and should be retained and returned to them with due attention to security.  Where possible, return work directly to the student.  Do not leave documents for pick-up in a general area where students may see others’ assignments.

Question 17.  What procedures should be followed in making comments on student work?

ANSWER:  It is preferable to write comments and grades inside the cover, not on the front page where others may see them.

Question 18.  Can student grades be posted?

ANSWER:  Posting a hard copy of grades should be avoided, and instead students should be encouraged to verify their own grades on the Student Information System and/or Learning Management System (e.g. Blackboard).  If grades are posted, anonymity must be assured.  Grades are the student’s personal information, and the posting of grades in any format that can lead to the identification of an individual (e.g. grade + name +/or student number) would be considered an invasion of their personal information. 

Question 19.  How should students sign-up for group work?

ANSWER:  Collect only the minimum of information required to facilitate group work.  Where group work is an established part of the course, inform students in the course outline that their personal information will be collected and used to develop group work schedules.

Question 20.  If I am preparing a presentation or conducting/reporting on research that utilizes examples of student work, how can I ensure that I meet my obligations to maintain the confidentiality and security of personal information while providing relevant information/data as part of my research or presentation?

ANSWER:  Samples of student work which have been rendered anonymous may be used, preferably with the explicit written consent of the student(s).  As well, FIPPA has specific information that is required for a research agreement. If conducting research, the policies and procedures of the Office of Research and Planning must be followed. Either Research and Planning or the Research Ethics Board can offer guidance concerning policies addressing research involving human subjects.

Question 21.  Under what circumstances can photographs and/or descriptions of a person be released?

ANSWER:  Where situations/incidents involve personal information about a member of the St. Lawrence College community, it is understood that the reporting of information shall not violate a person’s confidentiality and that the reporting of the information shall ensure an individual’s right to privacy. 

Photographs or video or audio recordings must not be used or disclosed for purposes that were not identified in the original collection notice unless the individuals in the photographs or video or audio recordings have consented to the new use or disclosure.

Caution must be exercised when posting information on websites.  Information that may be relatively innocuous when hanging on the wall in a school corridor – such as a student’s or staff name or photograph – may have serious privacy issues when posted on a website.  This information, which can be downloaded and combined with other information, may result in a potentially significant invasion of privacy – and potentially lead to significant concerns about personal safety and security.

Question 22.  Are photographs, video images and voice recordings personal information?

ANSWER: Yes                                                                                                     

FIPPA defines personal information as “recorded information about an identifiable individual”.  Where personal information is being collected, FIPPA requires St. Lawrence College to give notice, including the mandate for the collection, the purpose(s) for which the information is being collected, and the name of an individual who can answer questions about the collection.  Note that personal information does not include information about one’s business identity; therefore, information about St. Lawrence College’s employees as it pertains to their business identity is not considered to be personal information.

For the most part, personal information can be used and disclosed only with the consent – explicit or implicit – of the individual to whom it pertains.  However, it can be disclosed without consent in situations where such disclosure does not constitute an unjustified invasion of privacy.  St. Lawrence College has determined that simple attendance on campus does not constitute an unjustified invasion of privacy.  Nevertheless, where practical and as a courtesy, it is prudent to ask individuals for their consent, especially where the image or recording may be considered to be more sensitive.  Thus, an image of a student walking into the Counselling Department is more sensitive than a student walking into the Library.

Question 23. How do I give notice regarding photographs, video images and voice recordings?

ANSWER: With small groups of people, simply ask them.  For larger groups, you can make an announcement, post a written notice at the entrance to the place where the event is taking place, or place a notice on a website.  The point is to ensure that the notice comes to the attention of the individuals you wish to photograph or record, and then abide by their wishes.

Remember, you do not need to provide notice or obtain consent from St. Lawrence College staff who are acting in their official capacity.  However, it is common courtesy to do so.

If photographs or audio or video recordings are going to be stored in an image bank and/or used for another purpose in the future, it is important to obtain written consent.  It is essential that the consent form contain a waiver of indemnity and release (i.e. that St. Lawrence College is not responsible for the misuse or alteration of any such photographs/recordings by third parties; that St. Lawrence College and any of its officers, directors, agents, employees or servants are released from any all actions, claims, loss or causes of action arising from the use or misuse of such images; etc.).  Depending on the uses contemplated for the photographs/recordings there is additional language concerning indemnity and release that would need to be included – please contact the Freedom of Information Officer for assistance in preparing the waiver.

Question 24. What is verbal or implied consent?

ANSWER: Verbal consent means that someone tells you that you may take their photograph, or make an audio or video recording of them and use it in the way you have outlined in your notice. Implied consent occurs when someone’s actions indicate that they agree to be photographed or audio/video recorded.

Examples of implied consent are:

  • You tell someone you are about to take her photo to put on a faculty website, and she willingly poses for it.
  • You announce to a class that all those who do not want to be included in your video should move to one side of the room; those who do not move have implied that they consent to be video recorded.
  • Verbal or implied consent are sufficient in many situations, but you may wish to document it for the file so that a record is kept to substantiate consent should a question arise at a later date. 

Question 25.  How do I respond to a student who requests to audio and/or video tape my class?

ANSWER: To support students’ learning, electronic devices and recording of classes may be permitted at the discretion of faculty, and as required by the Ontario Human Rights Code and/or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.  Please also refer to relevant sections of Academic Policy.

Question 26. I am a professor who videotapes classroom activities as a part of my course curriculum.  Do I need consent from the students?

ANSWER:  If a video recording, audio recording, filming or photographing students in a specific activity is required to facilitate learning and feedback and/or evaluation of students’ attainment of a learning objective of the course, then you need to ensure that you advise them as to why it is required and what will be done with the recording at the end of the semester.  It is recommended as a best practice that notice be provided in the course outline that such activity will occur.

Question 27. When do I use a consent form?

ANSWER: While it is prudent to get a consent form every time you take a photograph, video or audio recording, there are circumstances where obtaining written consent is cumbersome or not necessary.  Use a consent form in the following circumstances:

For all St. Lawrence College marketing and advertising campaigns

For photographs and audio or video recordings that are to be placed in a image bank or repository to be repurposed in the future

For any situation where you consider it is important to have a written record that an individual agrees to be photographed or recorded and agrees to the use and disclosure of their voice or image

Question 28. Do I need to get consent to take a photo of people walking around campus or engaged in student life group activities?

ANSWER: No. It is not considered an unjustified invasion of personal privacy to take an image of an individual that simply records attendance on campus.  However, if practical, it is prudent and courteous to ask for consent.

Question 29. What could happen if I don’t have consent and the use of a photo or audio/video recording is challenged?

ANSWER: You may be required to remove a photograph or an audio/video recording from the web, or to destroy material that includes an image for which you don’t have consent.  This is to be avoided as it involves both a cost and a risk to St. Lawrence College’s reputation, as well as a complaint to and investigation by the Privacy Commission.

Question 30. Do third party photographers need to give notice and obtain consent?

ANSWER: Yes, if the third party is taking photos, video or audio recordings on behalf of St. Lawrence College or for the use of St. Lawrence College.  If the third party takes photographs for its own purposes, the third party must abide by legal requirements bearing on that third party, and by whatever rules St. Lawrence College sets.  St. Lawrence College is private property, and therefore individuals and organizations must comply with St. Lawrence College’s policies and procedures.  Third parties should be informed that St. Lawrence College is covered by FIPPA and that they must respect the privacy of our students.  We would require third parties taking photographs or making video or audio recordings would ask the subjects for their consent. 

Question 31. What about using previously existing photos?

ANSWER: FIPPA is retroactive and therefore it is incumbent upon St. Lawrence College to protect the privacy of all personal information in its custody or control.  Staff should consider the benefits of obtaining consents retroactively, especially for images on active websites.

Question 32. Are there guidelines for storage of the photo/video consent forms and for how long the forms should be retained?

ANSWER: The consent form (and any documentation about verbal or implied consent) should be retained for as long as the image or recording is being used and/or stored in an image bank.

Question 33.  We have candidates (internal and external) complete a Reference Check Consent Form indicating who they agree that the College can contact for references.  If a candidate (external) or employee later asks to see the reference information, do I have to release it to them?

ANSWER:  No.  FIPPA provides an exemption from disclosure to the individual to whom the information is referable for evaluative and opinion material provided for “determining suitability, eligibility or qualifications” where disclosure would reveal the source who provided the information “in circumstances where it may reasonably have been assumed that the identity of the source and their comments would be held in confidence”.

Question 34.  I am the Chair of a Selection Committee, what are my responsibilities regarding the resumes of applicants and notes made by Committee members of candidates who were interviewed. 

ANSWER:  All interview related documents, including resumes, notes, etc should be collected at the conclusion of interviews and given to the hiring manager for review and next steps.  Upon making hiring decision, manager will forward all materials to HR.

Question 35.  How does the college use alumni information?

ANSWER:  St. Lawrence College may use alumni records to maintain ongoing contact with graduates, and for the purposes of its own fundraising activities if the personal information is reasonably necessary for the fundraising activities and provided that certain steps are followed. 

St. Lawrence College maintains contact with graduates via both paper and electronic publications.  On graduation, the college alumni office is provided with information on graduating students for this purpose.

Question 36. Where can I find additional information concerning St. Lawrence College’s commitment to privacy and confidentiality?

ANSWER:  Academic Policy and the Acceptable Use for Computing Policy also contain relevant information on this topic.

Question 37. Are staff college emails considered private?

Staff email messages are considered St. Lawrence College records and may be the subject of an access request under FIPPA. 

Question 38.  What type of information should be documented from meetings etc.?

All staff have an obligation to create records with the expectation that they may be disclosed.  Omit unnecessary information; collect and record only the information needed to accomplish a task or meet a requirement.  Records should be factual, objective and include only what is relevant.  Use humour with caution in written communication – it may not be understood out of context or at a later date.  Ensure that records for which circulation should be limited are clearly marked CONFIDENTIAL. 

Question 39.  What is a privacy breach and what should staff do if they think it has happened?

A privacy breach is unauthorized collection, use or disclosure of someone’s personal information, in contravention of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or the Personal Health Information Protection Act.  If a privacy breach is suspected or confirmed, immediately report it to your supervisor and the Freedom of Information Officer.