Employee Resources

Merging Sections and FERPA

FERPA and Canvas Merged Sections

When course sections that do not meet together are merged or cross-listed into a single Canvas course primarily for administrative convenience, instructors should take steps to ensure student privacy and compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Specifically, students in courses with cross-listed sections should not be permitted to see or interact with students in sections other than their own unless the sections share a common meeting place and time.

Steps to Ensure Student Privacy

To prevent students from seeing students in other sections in your course, you’ll need to disable or lock down tools that expose information about students in other sections:


Under Settings > Course Details > more options, make sure the selections are as follows:

  • Check Disable comments on announcements
  • Uncheck Let students create discussion topics
  • Uncheck Let students organize their own groups

Under Settings > Navigationdisable the following tools, which expose the names of students who use them:

  • Chat
  • Conferences
  • Collaborations


Disable the “People” menu option that allows students to see the entire course roster for all sections. When adding TAs to your course, select Can interact with users in their section only, and add them to only the sections for which they are responsible.


The names of all students are visible when students organize their own groups, regardless of section assignment. When creating groups, require group members to be in the same section.


The names of all students who post are visible, regardless of section assignment. Create separate groups for each section. Students can then chat with group members, all of whom will be in their own section.


If you use Discussions, create separate groups for each section of students and assign each discussion to the separate group. The names of all students who post are visible, regardless of section assignment.

For graded discussions, create differentiated discussion topics restricted to individual sections.

For ungraded discussions, use the “Post to” option to post topics to individual sections instead of the entire class.


When sending a Canvas message to two or more students in different sections, check Send an individual message to each recipient. This will send a separate copy to each recipient and hide the names of the recipients in the message header.

Whenever you share or cause to be shared student information within a course or section(s) ensure that no student within the course or section has invoked a FERPA hold on all of their directory and non-directory information.

Enabling cross-section collaboration

If it’s important for students to be able to collaborate with students in other sections in your course, you can work around the default section privilege restrictions by setting up mixed-section groups in Canvas, which will allow them to interact with one another in the group space as well as send messages to one another in the Canvas Inbox (Conversations) tool. For instructions for creating Canvas Groups, see How do I add a group set in a course?  in the Canvas Instructor Guides . You can also remove the restrictions to Chat, Discussions, and Groups described in Additional steps to ensure student privacy above.

Before taking any action, however, let your students know why you would like to lift the privacy restrictions and request consent from each of them. Here are two ways you can request and document consent in Canvas:

  • Use the Canvas Quizzes tool to give a one-question survey asking for consent to collaborate with students in other sections.
  • When setting up your course groups, use the self sign-up  option. In addition to mixed-section groups, create one group for each section. Tell your students that by signing up for a mixed-section group they are tacitly granting consent to collaboration with students from other sections.

Place any students who are unwilling to give consent in groups with members of their own section.

Handout (not from JCCC): Complying with FERPA in Canvas Merged Courses