Your Child's School Records
by: Deidre Hayden / Great Schools
The Family Educational Rights & 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
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.