Due Process Documents and Documents Created Post-Graduation May Qualify as Student Records

On March 22, 2019, the Regional Superintendent of School for the North Cook Intermediate Service Center upheld a Hearing Officer’s determination that Park Ridge-Niles Community Consolidated School District No. 64 (the “District”) properly maintained student records that pertained to a graduated student’s due process proceeding.  A Parent brought a student records challenge pursuant to the Illinois School Student Records Act (“ISSRA”), 105 ILCS 10/1 et seq., its corresponding regulations, 23 Ill. Adm. Code 375.90, and the District’s Board of Education Policy.  The Parent alleged that the disputed documents should be removed from the student’s records because the disputed documents were created after the student graduated from the District.  Moreover, the Parent claimed that the records did not properly identify the student, the disputed document contained generic form documents did not relate to the student, and were “private communication.”

The District conducted an informal meeting to discuss the Parent’s concerns with the disputed documents. The Parties were unable to reach an agreement regarding the records. As such, the matter proceeded to hearing.  Throughout the hearing, the District presented evidence and testimony proving that the challenged documents were school student records as they clearly identified the student, were maintained by the District, and had direct relevance to the student’s education as the documents related to a due process proceeding initiated by the Parent.

Ultimately, the Hearing Officer found that the District properly maintained all of the disputed documents as student records because the documents individually identified the student and had clear relevance to the student’s education. The Hearing Officer rejected the Parent’s concern that the disputed documents were created after the student’s graduation and they did not qualify as student records.  The Hearing Officer also rejected the Parent’s claim that the disputed documents did not properly identify the student despite utilizing the student’s first name or initials.  Instead, the Hearing Officer determined that the disputed documents individually identify the student and were accurate.  Therefore, the District was required to maintain the disputed documents.

Also, the Hearing Officer decided that the generic or form documents provided to the Parent during her due process complaint qualified as student records, as the documents identified the student and were attachments to emails that identified the student and were directly related to his education.  Finally, the Hearing Officer denied the Parent’s assertion that certain disputed documents did not qualify as a student record because it contained language indicating that the email was a “private communication” in the signature line of the District’s email correspondence.

After the Hearing Officer found in favor of the District on all issues at the Student Records Hearing, the Parent filed an appeal with the Regional Office of Education.  The Regional Superintendent upheld the Hearing Officer’s decision on all issues.  The Regional Superintendent determined that the Parent had not produced clear and convincing evidence to demonstrate that the contested student records were inaccurate or inappropriate.  The Regional Superintendent’s decision reiterated that the burden of proof rested on the Parent to prove that the records were inaccurate, improper or irrelevant, and no evidence to support this contention was presented. The Regional Superintendent also upheld the Hearing Officer’s rulings pertaining to form documents provided to the Parent during the underlying due process hearing and emails containing “private communication” language.

The decisions by the Hearing Officer and Regional Superintendent illustrate that due process documents and documents created after a student has graduated can meet the qualifications of a student record.  Districts should be aware that they may still have an obligation to maintain documents created after a student has left their district because the documents may meet the definition of a student record.

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