Formal and Specific Requests are Required for Parent Access to Student Records under FERPA

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law ensuring the privacy of a student’s information, as well as providing protections to parents regarding their children’s education records. When a student is under the age of 18, parents may request access to their child’s records.  Specifically, upon a parent’s request, FERPA provides that an educational agency or school must comply with the request within a reasonable amount of time but no more than 45 days after it receives the request.  Further, a school should make arrangements for the parent to inspect and review their child’s records.  A school may also provide the requesting parent with a copy of the records or make other arrangements for the parent’s inspection and review if circumstances prevent the parent from reasonable access. It should be noted, however, that the recently amended Illinois School Student Records Act provides only 10 business days, with a possible 5 business day extension, for an Illinois school district to comply with a request for student records.

When an educational agency does not comply with a parent’s request for records under FERPA, the parent may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO). The FPCO will investigate the complaint to determine if a violation of FERPA has occurred.

Earlier this year, the FPCO issued guidance in the form of a “Letter to Anonymous,” pursuant to a case where a noncustodial parent had requested access to his child’s education records.  The fact that the father was a noncustodial parent was not at issue. Noncustodial parents are entitled to request access to and review their child’s education records unless a court order or State law specifically provides otherwise.

In determining that a FERPA violation had not occurred in the abovementioned case, FPCO hung its hat on the fact that it could find no evidence or confirmation that the parent actually submitted a formal inspection request to the school district.  The FPCO concluded that in the absence of a formal request for student records, they could not move forward with any action pursuant to the parent’s FERPA complaint.

The FPCO also noted that a request for access to student records should be specific as to the records a parent wishes to review.  As such, the FPCO directed the parent in this case to specifically identify the records he was seeking and submit a formal request to the school.

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