By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Your child’s school will begin a file on him or her during kindergarten and will maintain this file until graduation. This “cumulative file” will contain past and present grades, scores on standardized tests and attendance records. It may also contain comments from teachers about your child’s school performance. Separate records may also be kept by the school nurse and the special services department if your child receives special education.
In keeping records on your child, all public schools must comply with the practices detailed in a federal law entitled the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (also called FERPA). This law outlines who has access to your child’s records and describes safeguards to ensure the records are not misused. Special education records for students who have educational disabilities are also safeguarded under the FERPA law.
This law gives parents the right to review their child’s school records within 45 days of the request. Parents have a choice of reviewing them in private or having a school official review them with you to help interpret them. If you wish, you can have someone review the records with you. You are allowed to take notes from the records and are also entitled to copies of the records although the school district may charge you a duplication fee. When your child reaches the age of 18 or begins attending a post-secondary school, he or she becomes eligible to review these records.
In general, schools must have written permission from the parents (or the student, where eligible) to release information from the student’s record. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. School staff members who are involved with your child’s education are entitled to review them without your consent. Similarly, they may be reviewed without parent permission in response to a court order. The school district is required to maintain a list of people who have reviewed a student’s records.
If you want to examine your child’s records, contact the principal. He or she may ask that you put this request in writing. School administrators are usually well-versed in the rights of parents to review their child’s records and should not restrict your access. A good time to review these records is when you are moving to another school district.
In reviewing your child’s school records, you have the right to request that the school correct or remove information that you believe is inaccurate or misleading. You also have the right to insert into the file a statement explaining the reasons for your disagreement. While these kinds of disputes can usually be resolved in a non-confrontational manner, you are entitled to a hearing if you remain dissatisfied.