Welcome to the ABCs and the Letter F! And no, I’m not going to write about ‘that’ F word. The F word today is FERPA, and what FERPA is in relation to IEPs and Special Education. I also will explain the difference between FERPA and Right to Know.
FERPA is federal law that basically lays out a privacy code for your child’s records, as well as gives you the right to inspect your child’s records. All of them! So not the just RR and IEP….we’re talking about everything–teacher and clinician notes, emails, disciplinary and attendance reports, everything! I’ve often heard it referred to as “Like HIPAA, but for school” but I don’t know enough about HIPAA to know if that is true.
When you do a FERPA request, you are asking to see every piece of documentation about your child. There are many legitimate reasons to need these records–if your child isn’t making progress, is having constant troubles with bullying or discipline or has some other issue and you think your school is apathetic to your cause, you may want to request all these records. Usually, if you are at this point, you need an advocate to help you understand and interpret some of it.
You should know that in many instances, doing a FERPA request or a Right to Know (RTK) request is viewed as a hostile act by your district. Deserved or undeserved, good, bad or otherwise….that’s just how it is. If your relationship with your district isn’t contentious, make sure you really need to do this before doing it.
Here is a sample FERPA request letter, you can see how complete it is, in what you are requesting.
If you are having issues with your child and your district, chances are what you want is a FERPA request.
And here is the actual Dept of Ed document on FERPA:
Now, RTK applies to public entities and the public’s right to know about the business dealings of public agencies. So, basically you can request budget and expenditure knowledge, lawsuit and settlement information, Office of Civil Rights complaints and so on. A public employee that uses publicly funded services (ie-email or company credit cards) you can request all emails from an individual, or their cell phone records and so on. Generally if you are making this type of request for your district, you are looking for a pattern of behavior. So you could make a request for “all complaints filed with the office of civil rights against My Public School District for the years….”
All names will be redacted to protect other children’s privacy. Also, you can request to see how much your district has paid out in legal settlements, but you may only get whole figures, not specifics of cases.
Once you make a FERPA request, the district is supposed to comply within 45 days. For a RTK request, it’s supposed to be 30 days. However, in both cases I have found that there is little recourse for them if they do not comply. You can file compliance complaints with various agencies, but that takes time by itself and rarely fixes the problem. Also know that districts are allowed to charge you a reasonable fee, if you ask for paper copies of documents; the general rate is $0.25 per page. However, to save money on this, if you are expecting a bunch of documents, you can ask to just make an appointment to inspect the documents.
This is a very brief overview, and only as it pertains to education. RTK applies to everything (public), FERPA is just public education. So for RTK, people request all sorts of environmental and government information….such as chemical usage, municipality budgets and so on.
I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet. If you have serious concerns that warrant an attorney’s advice, please seek one out!