School Educational Records
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. We were in a settlement agreement meeting and were hoping to see some of the student’s IEP and school records.
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.
School Records Requests can Ruin Relationships.
Say that 5x fast. But it’s true.
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. For this family, that ship had already sailed. We were sitting in a room full of attorneys, merely deciding how much comp ed the student 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 we have,” that’s it.
Schools are Required to Redact Records.
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 a reason to comb over each one, thus, yep, making it easier to clean them. It happens. See above–be proactive.
When should I request my child’s IEP records?
So, first of all, do you need them? Is the situation becoming contentious? Or are you just being a nervous Nelly because you heard stories from other parents?
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 skip it. And just start today at being proactive at keeping the records. Don’t request the older records unless a situation arises. The outcome is going to be the same.
I would be doing you a huge disservice if I didn’t tell you this: Many schools view this as a hostile act.
There you go, it’s out there. It’s true. Again, if things are going well for your child and your IEP, I wouldn’t do this “just to have them.”
FERPA and IEP Records
FERPA is the federal law that basically lays out a privacy code for your child’s records. It also 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 that is not a true statement either.
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.
FERPA Request Template
If you are having issues with your child and your district, chances are what you want is a FERPA request.
Difference between FERPA and Right to Know
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. If a public employee on your IEP team 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.
Making a FERPA Request
Once you make a FERPA request, the district is supposed to comply within 45 days. For an 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 legislators. 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 education. So for RTK, people request all sorts of environmental and government information, such as chemical usage, municipality budgets and so on.
How long do schools keep records?
Usually a year. Sometimes less, a school year. Again, my first paragraph–be proactive! IEP records may be kept longer due to the Comp Ed thing. However, expect them to only have summary reports and not the raw data.
Can School and IEP records be online?
Short answer, yes. Here is the OSEP letter that discusses this. But yes, it is perfectly ok and accepted practice to communicate via email and online. And that includes sensitive documents like an IEP.
How long should I keep IEP records?
In most cases, keep at least 2 years. The thinking used to be that a comp ed claim could only go back two years. The case law on that has changed, see the decision below.
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!
This post was originally published in 2012 but was recently updated.