What is FERPA
FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). It is a series of federal laws designed to protect the privacy of students and their parents. The act is designed to ensure that students and parents of students may obtain access to the student’s educational records and challenge the content or release of such records to third parties. The federal government has a great FAQ section on FERPA covering a lot of topics and it is often on of the places I go for information. Often there are three main reasons a parents may want to do a FERPA request: they want the educational records of their child to review them for information, they are looking for staff emails concerning their child, or are looking for evaluation information used with their child. We will cover these topics in this blog post and give you a template letter for a FERPA request.
Why you may want to do a FERPA request
There are three main reasons a parents may want to do a FERPA request: they want the educational records of their child to review them for information, they are looking for staff emails or videos concerning their child, or are looking for evaluation information used with their child. Lets talk about each of these reasons briefly.
A parent may request the educational records of their child. In the educational records of their child. What is included in educational records? Federal law defines educational records as any “records that are directly related to a student and that are maintained by an educational agency or institution or a party acting for or on behalf of the agency or institution. These records include but are not limited to grades, transcripts, class lists, student course schedules, health records (at the K-12 level), student financial information (at the post-secondary level), and student discipline files. The information may be recorded in any way, including, but not limited to, handwriting, print, computer media, videotape, audiotape, film, microfilm, microfiche, and e-mail.” So if you are trying to get a copy your child’s IEP, evaluations done for an IEP, or other information related to the IEP or your child’s grades then you should be abler to access that information through a FERPA request.
Another reason parents may file a FERPA request is to gain access to emails between staff for various reasons like concerns over predetermination or retaliation. Schools are often savvy to requests from parents to get staff emails and have taken steps to help protect their staff from having their emails accessed. It can be quite hard to get emails. There is FERPA guidance on these topics in the Letter to Baker (2005 & 2006) and the Letter to Husk (2006 & 2008) that can be helpful in pushing a request for emails. If you still cannot get the emails then you can file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the emails as they are considered public records. I encourage parents to try through FERPA first because you can get access to review (physically look) over the records first before deciding if you want a copy while a FOIA request will cost you money. Under FOIA you are charged for the time for the researcher to find the records along with the copies for the records. If you do a FOIA request make sure to send your request to your state’s department of education.
One last word on FERPA requests and fees. Under a FERPA request you are allowed to VIEW the records. This means you can look at the records but there is no guarantee you can get a copy for free as schools are allowed to charge a fee for copies. If you are charged a fee the school cannot charge you for the time to search for the records nor retrieve the records [34 CFR § 99.11(b)] unlike in a FOIA request. Under FERPA schools cannot fee charge a fee if it effectively prevents a parent or student from exercising their rights to inspect and review the the education records. If there are circumstances where you cannot go in to inspect and review the records then the school should be supplying you a copy of the records or the school needs to make other acceptable arrangements for you to view the records [34 CFR § 99.10(d)].
Finally, another reason a parent my do a FERPA request is to review the evaluation information that was done for a child or related service provider notes/sessions. Sometimes parents want to see the copy of the evaluations that were done including raw data and evaluation instruments used. In the Letter to Husk (2008) as part of the compliance procedure a school was asked to complete includes item number two which states:
2) The District has procedures in place to ensure that parents are afforded an opportunity to inspect and review any test instruments, question booklets, answer sheets, evaluations, surveys, inventories, and other materials that identify a student (by name, number, other manner) that are maintained by the District or a party acting for the District, and to ensure that’service providers and other school officials do not destroy these records so long as there is an outstanding request to inspect and review them. The District must advise its service providers and other school officials that it is not sufficient under FERPA to refer parents to an IEP or other document that reflects or summarizes a student’s test results.
Letter to Husk, 2008
This letter also covers allowing parents to to view and inspect any logs, notes, or session material documenting any test, therapy, or service supplied to your child. This is covered under the first item in the FERPA guidance in the Letter to Husk (2008). So know you do have a right to review this information and it should be contained in your child’s cumulative folder the school keeps for your child.
FERPA Request Template Letter
When you submit a FERPA request make sure you have documentation that you submitted your request. When you deliver your letter to the school you need to do so in one of three methods. Method 1: Write the letter and print out two copies. Take one copy to the post office and send the letter certified mail with signature card and return receipt. Once you get the signature card back take it and staple it to the other copy you saved. This copy should then be placed in a file folder, or other area where you maintain copies of your child’s school records and information. Method 2: Print off two or more copies. Take both copies into the front office and ask the secretary to stamp all the copies as received with the school stamp WITH A DATE! You will give her one or more of the copies to deliver to the school principal and the school registrar with the other copy being retained for your files. Method 3: Call the school office and get the emails for your school principal and school registrar. Then send this template letter as an email to the school principal and registrar. By sending an email you have a record that your request was sent and to the people to whom your request was sent to in case there are any issues with fulfilling your request. You want to keep records of your requests because the school has to respond to your request in a within a reasonable amount of time but not longer than 45 days [34 CFR § 99.10(b)].
Note: In the time of COVID, schools do have to work on providing you your child’s educational records within the 45-day time frame. You can find more guidance on FERPA and COVID in FERPA and Virtual Learning during COVID-19 and in FERPA and the Coronavirus Disease 2019
Re: FERPA Request for all of student’s educational records
Dear [Principal’s name],
In preparation for my child’s upcoming IEP meeting, I am submitting a Family
Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requesting a copy of all of
his/her records since [whatever time frame you need].
Please include all of his/her records, which include, but are not limited to: cumulative
file, confidential file and compliance file. Please include all reports written as a result of
school observations and evaluations; reports of independent evaluations; medical records;
nurse’s records; summary reports of evaluation team and eligibility committee meetings;
IEPs; school team committee meeting notes; any correspondence written between school
personnel regarding our child where s/he is mentioned by name, initials or by code,
including any emails; any correspondence written between parents and school personnel,
including any email; any and all records maintained by teachers and any member of the IEP
team; notes or letters written in connection with any planning or discussions, or any other
matters in connection with the student. Please include any and all personally identifiable
information, print, email, video or audio recording that exists.
Thank you for your time and cooperation.
I hope you found this post helpful in explaining about FERPA. Please take the time to click on the links in the post as it contains the reference material used to write this post. As always, you are welcome to join us for more discussion on visual impairments in the educational setting at our FB group, IEP/504 Assistance for parents of public school students from all over the United States.
AESA also runs a special needs homeschool group, Homeschooling Special (Needs) Kids, and we also have a group for all parents and caregivers of special needs children called Special Needs Parenting Advice and Support where we discuss ALL things related to special needs care. I hope to see you there!
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