An early March death of a University of Kansas student has many colleges and universities rethinking privacy policies regarding their students.

Recent news reports indicate that Jason Wren, a 19 year-old student from Colorado was ejected from university housing after repeated infractions involving alcohol. Reportedly, the university’s policy regarding its students’ privacy prohibited the disclosure of the basis for his removal from university housing to Mr. Wren’s parents.

On March 8, 2009, Jason Wren was found dead in his bed at a fraternity house in Lawrence, Kansas. The Kansas City Star reported that Jay Wren, the father of the deceased student, indicated that the university would not disclose to him the basis for his son’s removal from university housing. The Star further reported that Mr. Wren said he would have pulled his son out of school if he knew of an alcohol problem.

Kansas University has reported that it is examining the privacy issues (and policies) currently in place. Apparently the university will be examining whether any changes can or should be made to the policy, in light of these recent events.

Kansas University will have to take into consideration requirements imposed when financial aid from a program administered by the U. S. Department of Education is involved when making decisions regarding privacy. Generally speaking, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), parents’ right to learn certain (private, in most cases) information regarding their children unless the child specifically permits it.

The death of this student may be a wake-up call for many colleges and universities, as well as other organizations in similar situations. The opportunity to review the implications of the consequences of privacy policy provisions should not be overlooked. Although many institutions (admirably) want to protect the privacy of their patients, students and guests, decisions regarding privacy protection do not exist in a vacuum, as is well demonstrated by this case.

Mark McCreary is a partner in Fox Rothschild’s Corporate Department, specializing in privacy and Internet law. If you have questions regarding this post, or any other privacy matter, you may contact Mark at (215) 299-2010 or