We were seated around a huge U-shaped setup. I was directly across from the school district’s attorney, though we were a good 10 feet apart.
He looked right at me and said, “I’m sorry Mrs. Lightner, just because you wish for these records to exist, does not mean that they exist.”
Dammit, I knew they existed, a teacher told me they did. But I couldn’t throw her under the bus.
When you ask for your child’s IEP records, particularly if it is a formal FERPA request, it can negatively affect your relationship with your team. They often view it as a hostile act. For this family, that ship had already sailed–we were sitting in a room full of attorneys, merely deciding how much comp ed the kid was going to get.
A teacher told us about an email, a smoking gun if you will. Of course it didn’t show up in the FERPA request, but we had enough other stuff to make a strong case.
So what do you do? You want your child’s records, and either the school is hassling you or you feel that the records have been sanitized prior to you receiving them?
Be proactive with IEP records.
This is the best advice I can give. If you’re asking for records because you didn’t keep them, it’s already too late. It likely will taint the relationship and yes, many schools will sanitize the records and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. I guess you could hire a CSI investigator or something, but if they say this is all the records, that’s it.
Just keep a box and a separate folder on email and drop everything in there. You don’t need a fancy filing system for ALL the records if there are no pressing issues. But then you have them to sort through, should something come up.
They are required to redact.
For the privacy of other children, they will redact all names out of email except your child’s. Since they have to redact them, it gives them reason to comb over each one, thus, yep, making it easier to clean them. It happens. See above–be proactive.
Formally request IEP records.
If you need them, you need them. But make sure that you need them. I hear a lot of parents say “You know, I just want them, to have.” Ok, great, but if you don’t want to risk ruining a good working relationship, just start today at being proactive and don’t request the older records unless a situation arises. The outcome is going to be the same.
I have two samples below of how to request letters.
FERPA, Right to Know and IEP Records
A few years ago, I did the ABCs of IEPs. Periodically I review and update old posts, this is one of them. 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. You can take a flash drive with you and load the files onto it.
If you get resistance, call your state folks. Again, I don’t want you quoting case law and stuff to random admins, but it’s been decided over and over that some parents cannot afford $0.25 a page and that a school has no valid reason to not let you bring a flash drive. It’s just a bullying or scare tactic, a deterrent.
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!
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