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Obtaining Your Child's School Records
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The Autistic Spectrum

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Having trouble getting access to your child's report cards or other information? Follow these steps:

1)
Call your child's school and request the child's school records. These include report cards, attendance records, visits to the school nurse, etc.) Don't waste your time with the individual teachers, speak directly to the Principal or Head Administrator.

2) If they refuse, tell them that they will be answering to a charge of violating Federal law if they don't immediately make the records available to you.

The Federal Law that that they're in violation of is the
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.

Quote this passage to them, then follow up by FAXing it in:

Section 99.4: Sec. 99.4 What are the rights of parents? "An educational agency or institution shall give full rights under the Act to either parent unless the agency or institution has been provided with evidence that there is a court order, state Statute, or legally binding document relating to such matters as divorce, separation, or custody, that specifically revokes these rights."  (Emphasis added)
The meaning and intent of this Statute is pretty clear. Note the words "either" and "specifically". Unless your Divorce Decree specifically excludes you from access to your child's school records, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO ACCESS THEM. The provisions in FERPA apply to ALL schools that receive Federal funding of any kind.

Note that 'school records' include:
  • report cards
  • enrollment forms
  • achievement tests
  • progress reports
  • field trip forms
  • incident reports
  • disciplinary reports
  • medical records
  • emergency notification cards
  • any other officially generated reports, including email
It is important to note that counselor and psychologist records are considered part of an educational record. Thus, they are not exempt from FERPA’s requirement. For the "teacher’s notes" exemption to apply to a counselor’s records, the notes taken by the counselor must be kept apart from all other student records and the information may not be shared with other persons.

Special Note on letters and e-mails between the teacher or school and other parties:
Recently an incident occurred where we were asked by a concerned parent about obtaining copies of e-mails between the other parent and the teacher. In this case, the teacher had mentioned a number of e-mails but refused to discuss their content. They wanted to know if they could access these e-mails under FERPA. Our reply was in two parts, the first was on correspondence in general, whether it be letters, notes, or other documents. The second was additional thoughts on e-mail correspondence and school district policies.

We strongly suggest checking with an attorney or your school to verify that this information applies to your school district. Different school districts have different rules and guidelines, and although this should be valid in most instances, your school district may be different.
  1. The only thing that can be excluded from the record is personal notes used by the teacher and never intended for viewing by any other person. Two party communications do not fall under that definition, since they are, by their very nature, meant to be viewed by others. Examine your state statutes to verify whether or not this is the case in your school district.
  2. It's likely that the exception they are trying to use is "(1) Records of instructional, supervisory, and administrative personnel and educational personnel ancillary to those persons that are kept in the sole possession of the maker of the record, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record".
If you check the school district's e-mail policy, it almost certainly states specifically that e-mail received through the district is the property of the district and reserves the right of the school district to monitor employee e-mails, thus eliminating the "not accessible to any other person" requirement. That is in addition to the fact that this is a two party communication as mentioned before.


3) If you want legal recourse, send the same information to them in a registered letter informing them of your intention to bring them to court for violation of this law. If, after receipt of the registered letter, they still refuse to honor your request for the records, you may then take them to court for violation of the above Statute.
NOTE: If at all possible, get something in writing from them stating their refusal to provide the records. Tell them that your attorney has requested that they provide you with a written refusal. The moment they do this, they've provided you with proof that they are, in fact, violating Federal law.

If necessary, subpoena all of the clerks in the school office (there are usually only three or four) and the school's Principal and Vice-Principal. Put them through deposition and let your attorney give them a harsh dose of reality. Chances are you'll never actually get anywhere near a deposition, because as soon as your subpoenas are served the school officials will get worried. Then they'll contact the Education District's attorney(s) who will most likely tell them that they face serious repercussions if they don't comply. Remember- your right to have access to your child's school records IS THE LAW. They may not know that, but the Education District's attorney will.

Always inform the school where your child attends in writing (see below) that you want any and all paperwork, records or reports listed above sent to you just as they are sent to the custodial parent. Do you best to be pleasant and reasonable, yet firm with school officials you deal with. Make sure that they know that one of the school’s qualifications for receiving federal funds is dependent upon compliance with
20 U.S.C. 1232g (FERPA) to receive federal funds.

The key part of
FERPA is as follows:
(1)(A) No funds shall be made available under any applicable program to any educational agency or institution which has a policy of denying, or which effectively prevents, the parents of students who are or have been in attendance at a school of such agency or at such institution, as the case may be, the right to inspect and review the education records of their children.
When contacting a school under the auspices of FERPA, here are a couple of key points to keep in mind:
  1. A school has 45 days in which to respond to your request.
  2. If you are within commuting distance the school is NOT required (although they can) to provide you with a copy of the records. They must, however, provide you with an opportunity to inspect the records at the school within the alloted time.
  3. Your complaint must be timely. That means you must submit your complaint to FPCO within 180 days of the date you knew OR SHOULD HAVE KNOWN of the violation.
For more information, or to report a school for violating FERPA, contact the Family Policy Compliance Office of the Department of Education at:

U.S. Dept of Education
Family Policy Compliance Office
600 Independence Ave.
Wash. DC. 20202
(202) 260-3887


We also recommend sending the school one of the letters below (suitably modified to fit your circumstances) via Registered Mail. Edit the information in [brackets] to specify the child's name, whether you are the mother or the father, the teacher's name(s) and any other situation-specific particulars. You may also want to include a reference to FERPA, such as the Section 99.4 paragraph above.

Occasionally you may find that your attempt at getting information is blocked by a teacher, staff member, or other third party. The reasons for this can range from a simple unwillingness to release information, all the way to a personal (and inappropriate) involvement with one of the parents or the child. If you encounter this kind of interference, we suggest you send a second request in an envelope with no return address, mailed from out of state, and marked "PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL". In the letter, reference the previous letter, how it had been ignored, and then quote the law from FERPA that applies. Finally, send a blind carbon copy to the superintendent of that school district.

There are three different request letters, each varies in tone and formality.

Standard Letter #1 Alternate Letter #2 Alternate Letter #3
This is the 'standard' request letter; fairly formal in tone, it can either be used as the initial contact letter or used where the doctor or school authorities are being uncooperative or unresponsive. This letter has a somewhat softer, but still formal tone than the standard letter we offer. This may also be used as the initial contact letter if you don't expect any opposition from the school or doctor. This letter is more concise and has a less aggressive tone than the standard letter. If you have a good relationship with the doctor or school you're requesting records from, this might be a better letter to send.



Do these letters work? Take a look and see...
 

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How to Get Your Child’s School Records — and Why It’s Important

As a parent of a child with learning disabilities, you have a special interest in knowing what is in your child's school records. This is true because of the significant information these records offer you about your child and also because of the emphasis schools place on these records when making educational decisions. If any information in your child's records is inaccurate, biased, incomplete, or inconsistent, this material may well result in inaccurate decisions regarding your child's right to special education services. For these reasons you must know how to obtain, interpret, and correct these records and how to use them effectively in school meetings. This article will give you an overview of your rights to your child’s records.

SchwabLearning.org Series  
Your Child's School Records: Article 1 of 2

Second in series:
How to Analyze and Revise Your Child’s Records

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

Schools are required by federal and state laws to maintain certain records and to make these records available to you upon request. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) establish the minimum requirements school systems must meet in maintaining, protecting, and providing access to students' school records. State laws will sometimes go beyond these minimum requirements and provide parents with additional rights to review, modify, or seek other changes in these records. Be sure to obtain a copy of your own state's and school district’s school records laws and procedures by contacting your school district’s director of special education.

Obtaining Your Child's Records from the Local School

Getting copies of your child's school records should be fairly easy. While federal law does not specifically require school systems to provide parents with copies of these records, in practice most school systems do so upon request.

Types of Files

Begin by asking the school principal about the location of your child's various files or records. These will include:

  • Cumulative file. The principal will have your child’s cumulative file, which you will want to see and copy. Often the cumulative file contains little more than a profile card with personal identification data and perhaps academic achievement levels, some teacher reports, and report cards.
  • Confidential file. Also accessible to parents, the confidential file may be kept at your child's school, or in a central administrative office where the special education program offices are located. The file is called confidential because access to the information is limited to certain individuals. Your child's confidential record includes all of the reports written as a result of the school's evaluation; reports of independent evaluators, if any; medical records that you have had released; summary reports of evaluation team and eligibility committee meetings; your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP); and, often, correspondence between you and school personnel.
  • Compliance file (some schools). Some school systems keep the reports of eligibility meetings, correspondence between the parents and school officials, and other similar documents in a separate compliance file. The contents of the compliance file demonstrate that the school system has met the timelines, notification, and consent regulations required by IDEA.
  • Discipline file (some schools). Some schools may also maintain a separate file regarding discipline issues involving long-term suspension or expulsion.

A good bit of detective work is sometimes required to understand your school system's individual filing system!

Getting Copies of Records

School districts usually require parents to sign a “release of information” form before they will provide copies of schools records. You can often obtain that form through your child’s school, or by simply writing a letter to the school principal or special education director, requesting a copy of school records. In many school districts, parents can go to the district’s special education offices and fill out a form to request their children’s records.

School districts usually provide the first copy of records for free. If they do charge a fee, the fee can be only for the cost of reproducing and mailing the records, not for personnel time or other costs. Again, check your local policies and procedures for your district’s process.

Records Open to Parents

Because of the importance of your child's records in determining special education services, you should review and correct them annually … 

Once you have gained access to your child's records, does this mean you can see any and all records pertaining to your child? Which records is the school system legally required to show you? Under FERPA, schools must show parents all records, files, documents, and other materials that are maintained by the school system and contain information relating to their children. This includes all records referring to your child in any personally identifiable manner — that is, records containing your child's name, Social Security number, student ID number, or other data making them traceable to her.

The following are excluded from the records schools must show you:

  • Notes of teachers, counselors, and/or school administrators, made for their personal use and shown to nobody else (except a substitute teacher)
  • Personnel records of school employees

Examining and Correcting Your Child's Records

Even when you have your child's records in your hands, you may wonder what you've got. The language of the educators, psychologists, educational diagnosticians, and other school professionals is often difficult to understand. If this is the case for you, all you need to do is ask someone to help you. The law requires school personnel to explain the records to you when you do not understand them. Or you may take a friend or a knowledgeable professional with you to help review the records and explain confusing parts. When you do this, however, you will be asked to sign a form giving that person permission to see your child's records.

As you review the records, you may find places where information given about your child or family conflicts with your own assessments. If left unchallenged, this material could lead to decisions about your child's educational program that are not in his or her best interest. To prevent this from happening, you can follow two paths.

  • First, you can informally ask the principal or the director of special education to delete the material, giving your reasons for the request. Often school officials will honor the request and no problem arises.
  • You may also write down your objections to a particular record and have that attached to the record.

If you strongly believe the report does not belong in your child’s record, and the schools refuse to remove the requested material, you have a right to a formal records hearing. Your state and local school district policies will tell you how to follow the more formal process for amending your child’s records.

Controlling Who Sees Your Child's Records

FERPA and IDEA prohibit schools from disclosing your child's records to anyone without your written consent. The only exceptions are:

  • School officials, including teachers, in your child’s district with a legitimate educational interest as defined in the school procedures.
  • School officials in the school district to which your child intends to transfer (Before the records are sent, however, you will want to review them and challenge their content, if necessary.)
  • Certain state and national education agencies, if necessary, for enforcing federal laws.
  • Anyone to whom a state statute requires the school to report information.
  • Accrediting and research organizations helping the school, provided they guarantee confidentiality.
  • Student financial aid officials.
  • People who have court orders, provided the school makes reasonable efforts to notify the parent or student before releasing the records.
  • Appropriate people in health and safety emergencies such as doctors, nurses, and fire marshals.
  • Law enforcement and judicial authorities in certain cases.

With the exception of the people listed above, schools must have your permission to release material from your child's records to anyone other than yourself. When requesting release of the records, the school must tell you which records are involved, why they have been requested, and who will receive them. Likewise, if you want someone outside the school system to see your child's records, you will be asked to sign a release granting such permission. All of these rules have been instituted to protect your privacy and that of your child.

When Your Child Reaches 18 or Goes to Post-secondary School

When your child reaches the age of 18 or enters a post-secondary educational institution such as a vocational-technical school, a college, a university, or trade school, most rights to records previously available to you are transferred to your child. The only parts of the record your child will not have the right to see are your financial records and any statements or confidential recommendations your child has waived the right to see. This means if you wish to review the school records of a son or daughter who is 18 or who is attending post-secondary school, she must first sign a waiver permitting you to do so.

The law requires school personnel to explain the records to you when you do not understand them. 

IDEA gives parents of children with disabilities, including learning disabilities, special consideration when transferring record rights. The law grants states the authority to develop individual policies which take into account the type and severity of the child's disability and the child's age when transferring record rights from parents to their children. Thus, if your child with disabilities has reached age 18 or is about to reach 18 and is in secondary school, you should find out, by asking the director of special education in your school district, if your state has a policy that allows you continued access to your child's records. If not, you and school personnel may want to develop a waiver form which your child can sign allowing you continued rights to review, to control access to, and to seek changes in those records.

When You Move

If you should move, your child's school records will, of course, move with you. To be certain your child's new school receives only relevant and current records, you will want to examine the entire contents of the folder and identify specifically the material you want forwarded. Most school systems will honor your request and send only the information you want released. However, you should note that many states require schools to transfer records about any disciplinary violation; you do not have the option of excluding that information.

Should the school wish to send material you want withheld, you can initiate a records hearing procedure to prohibit them from doing so. In any case, before you move, always review your child's school folder. You will want to eliminate the irrelevant, inaccurate, and dated material or attach your critique to those records you believe should have been removed but were not.

Because of the importance of your child's records in determining special education services, you should review and correct them annually, whether or not you move. You should also be certain you have a duplicate copy of all the material in the official files. Then, if the records are lost, you will have copies to replace them.

A Final Note: Thick Records

Classroom teachers have been heard to comment, "When I see a thick set of records for a child new to my class, I know trouble is coming." This is another reason for your diligence in reviewing your child's records periodically. Many reports, especially those written several years previously, give little if any information that will be useful in current decisions about your child. A careful weeding out of irrelevant documents can help to avoid the thick record syndrome.

The next article on school records explains how to analyze and update/revise your child’s records.

 2004 Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation   Created: 09/15/2004

Other Resources

Books
Negotiating the Special Education Maze: A Guide for Parents and Teachers http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0933149727/schwabfoundation/
By Winifred Anderson, Stephen Chitwood, and Deidre Hayden

From Emotions to Advocacy — The Special Education Survival Guide
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1892320088/schwabfoundation/
By Peter and Pamela Wright

 






Some links that may be of help: