Many non-custodial parents have difficulty getting access to their child's report cards or other school information. Following these steps will usually solve this problem.
1) Call your child's school and request the child's school records. These include report cards, attendance records, visits to the school nurse, etc.) Don't waste your time with the individual teachers, speak directly to the Principal or Head Administrator.
2) If they refuse, tell them that they will be answering to a charge of violating Federal law if they don't immediately make the records available to you.
The Federal Law that that they're in violation of is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.
Quote this passage to them, then follow up by FAXing it in:
Section 99.4: Sec. 99.4 What are the rights of parents? "An educational agency or institution shall give full rights under the Act to either parent unless the agency or institution has been provided with evidence that there is a court order, state Statute, or legally binding document relating to such matters as divorce, separation, or custody, that specifically revokes these rights." (Emphasis added)
The meaning and intent of this Statute is pretty clear. Note the words "either" and "specifically". Unless your Divorce Decree specifically excludes you from access to your child's school records, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO ACCESS THEM. The provisions in FERPA apply to ALL schools that receive Federal funding of any kind.
Note that 'school records' include:
field trip forms
emergency notification cards
any other officially generated reports, including email
It is important to note that counselor and psychologist records are considered part of an educational record. Thus, they are not exempt from FERPA’s requirement. For the "teacher’s notes" exemption to apply to a counselor’s records, the notes taken by the counselor must be kept apart from all other student records and the information may not be shared with other persons.
Special Note on letters and e-mails between the teacher or school and other parties: Recently an incident occurred where we were asked by a concerned parent about obtaining copies of e-mails between the other parent and the teacher. In this case, the teacher had mentioned a number of e-mails but refused to discuss their content. They wanted to know if they could access these e-mails under FERPA. Our reply was in two parts, the first was on correspondence in general, whether it be letters, notes, or other documents. The second was additional thoughts on e-mail correspondence and school district policies.
We strongly suggest checking with an attorney or your school to verify that this information applies to your school district. Different school districts have different rules and guidelines, and although this should be valid in most instances, your school district may be different.
The only thing that can be excluded from the record is personal notes used by the teacher and never intended for viewing by any other person. Two party communications do not fall under that definition, since they are, by their very nature, meant to be viewed by others. Examine your state statutes to verify whether or not this is the case in your school district.
It's likely that the exception they are trying to use is "(1) Records of instructional, supervisory, and administrative personnel and educational personnel ancillary to those persons that are kept in the sole possession of the maker of the record, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record".
If you check the school district's e-mail policy, it almost certainly states specifically that e-mail received through the district is the property of the district and reserves the right of the school district to monitor employee e-mails, thus eliminating the "not accessible to any other person" requirement. That is in addition to the fact that this is a two party communication as mentioned before.
3) If you want legal recourse, send the same information to them in a registered letter informing them of your intention to bring them to court for violation of this law. If, after receipt of the registered letter, they still refuse to honor your request for the records, you may then take them to court for violation of the above Statute.
NOTE: If at all possible, get something in writing from them stating their refusal to provide the records. Tell them that your attorney has requested that they provide you with a written refusal. The moment they do this, they've provided you with proof that they are, in fact, violating Federal law.
If necessary, subpoena all of the clerks in the school office (there are usually only three or four) and the school's Principal and Vice-Principal. Put them through deposition and let your attorney give them a harsh dose of reality. Chances are you'll never actually get anywhere near a deposition, because as soon as your subpoenas are served the school officials will get worried. Then they'll contact the Education District's attorney(s) who will most likely tell them that they face serious repercussions if they don't comply. Remember- your right to have access to your child's school records IS THE LAW. They may not know that, but the Education District's attorney will.
Always inform the school where your child attends in writing (see below) that you want any and all paperwork, records or reports listed above sent to you just as they are sent to the custodial parent. Do you best to be pleasant and reasonable, yet firm with school officials you deal with. Make sure that they know that one of the school’s qualifications for receiving federal funds is dependent upon compliance with 20 U.S.C. 1232g (FERPA) to receive federal funds.
The key part of FERPA is as follows:
(1)(A) No funds shall be made available under any applicable program to any educational agency or institution which has a policy of denying, or which effectively prevents, the parents of students who are or have been in attendance at a school of such agency or at such institution, as the case may be, the right to inspect and review the education records of their children.
When contacting a school under the auspices of FERPA, here are a couple of key points to keep in mind:
A school has 45 days in which to respond to your request.
If you are within commuting distance the school is NOT required (although they can) to provide you with a copy of the records. They must, however, provide you with an opportunity to inspect the records at the school within the allotted time.
Your complaint must be timely. That means you must submit your complaint to FPCO within 180 days of the date you knew OR SHOULD HAVE KNOWN of the violation.
For more information, or to report a school for violating FERPA, contact the Family Policy Compliance Office of the Department of Education at:
U.S. Dept of Education Family Policy Compliance Office 600 Independence Ave. Wash. DC. 20202 (202) 260-3887
We also recommend sending the school one of the letters below (suitably modified to fit your circumstances) via Registered Mail. Edit the information in [brackets] to specify the child's name, whether you are the mother or the father, the teacher's name(s) and any other situation-specific particulars. You may also want to include a reference to FERPA, such as the Section 99.4 paragraph above.
Occasionally you may find that your attempt at getting information is blocked by a teacher, staff member, or other third party. The reasons for this can range from a simple unwillingness to release information, all the way to a personal (and inappropriate) involvement with one of the parents or the child. If you encounter this kind of interference, we suggest you send a second request in an envelope with no return address, mailed from out of state, and marked "PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL". In the letter, reference the previous letter, how it had been ignored, and then quote the law from FERPA that applies. Finally, send a blind carbon copy to the superintendent of that school district.
There are three different request letters, each varies in tone and formality.
This is the 'standard' request letter; fairly formal in tone, it can either be used as the initial contact letter or used where the doctor or school authorities are being uncooperative or unresponsive.
This letter has a somewhat softer, but still formal tone than the standard letter we offer. This may also be used as the initial contact letter if you don't expect any opposition from the school or doctor.
This letter is more concise and has a less aggressive tone than the standard letter. If you have a good relationship with the doctor or school you're requesting records from, this might be a better letter to send.