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Protecting the Privacy of Student Records, Section 5 full text
Section 5:
Providing Parents Access
to Their Child's Records 

Overview

Commonly Asked Questions
Guidelines
A. Notifying Parents of Their Rights
B. Providing Access to Individual Records
C. Handling a Parent's Request
D. Managing the Review
E. Providing Copies or Charging a Fee
F. Handling Challenges to Record Contents
G. Managing the Hearing Procedures

Exhibit



Suggested Audiences:
OVERVIEW

Sometimes parents worry about what information is kept about their children, and whether the information is correct. To protect the privacy of students and their families, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) grants parents the right to review, amend, and challenge the contents of their child's education record. Section 2 includes a discussion of FERPA's requirements; Section 5 provides additional suggestions to implement and facilitate the process.


COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q. Can students review their own records?

A. Yes, students can review their own records but only under certain circumstances. Under FERPA, the right to review records transfers from the parents to the students once students turn eighteen years old or attend a postsecondary institution. Postsecondary students under eighteen may not, however, demand access to their elementary or secondary school records. As long as students are legally dependent for tax purposes, parents retain access rights to records.

Q. How do I respond speedily to requests for reviewing student records?

A. If you establish written procedures and provide appropriate forms, you can facilitate the reviewing process and forestall frustrating delays. See Section 5, Guidelines B.

Q. Should I authenticate requests for student information? How far do my responsibilities extend?

A. The agencies or schools releasing information are responsible for verifying the authenticity of a request. However, you will need to make a judgment call as to what precautions are sufficient. You can reduce ambiguity by creating a written policy withverification procedures. See Section 5, Guidelines C and D for suggestions.

Q. Can I discuss the education record of a student in front of someone the parent has brought along, such as a language interpreter or a friend who sits in when I let the parent review the record?

A. Yes, you may discuss the record if the parent signs a consent form. See Section 5, Guidelines D.

Q. Do I have to provide copies of an education record when the parents request to see it?

A. The agency or school may choose to provide copies, although this is required only when it is not feasible for the parent to review the record because of distance, illnesses, disabilities, or a lack of building accessibility. See Section 5, Guidelines E.

Q. Must I allow a parent to make a copy of an education record?

A. No, you do not have to allow a parent to make a copy unless the agency or school allows copying. The agency or school can charge for the copies. See Section 5, Guidelines E.

Q. Do non-custodial parents have access rights to student records?

A. Parents, custodial and non-custodial, as well as legal guardians have access to student information unless the agency or school has evidence of a court order or state law revoking these rights. Parent rights extend to surrogate parents of children with disabilities. See Exhibit 5-1 for the pamphlet, Rights of Non-Custodial Parents, developed by the Family Policy Compliance Office of the U.S. Department of Education.

Q. What do I do if a non-custodial parent requests to amend an education record?

A. You would follow the same procedures as you would for amending records for custodial parents. See Exhibit 5-1.

Q. Must I give my notes on a student to his or her parent?

A. If teachers' or counselors' notes are not maintained in the education record of the student and are not shared with anyone else, it is not considered part of the education record by FERPA. Teachers may choose not to give their notes to parents. See Section 2 for the definition of an education record.

Q. What are the access rights of emancipated minors?

A. If a person is granted the legal status of an emancipated minor, that individual has access to his or her own record. Most states define an emancipated minor as a minor who has the power and capacity of an adult.


GUIDELINES

A. Notifying Parents of Their Rights

Schools or districts are required to make public notification of parents' rights under this law. See Exhibit 2-3 in Section 2 for a model notification. The actual means of notification (e.g., a special letter, a newsletter article, a PTA or PTO bulletin, or inclusion in a student handbook) is the decision of each school or district. In addition, the district must attempt to notify parents who have a primary or home language other than English. For instance, the notification may be translated into different languages, or interpreters may provide the information to parents when they are registering their child at the school.

B. Providing Access to Individual Records

FERPA provides that parents may inspect and review their own child's education record. Exhibit 2-1 includes a Fact Sheet of FERPA describing the federal requirements in this aspect. This right of review also is granted to non-custodial parents. See Exhibit 5-1. Some states established laws with provisions applied to access of education records. It is also advisable to check for possible state laws that define parents.

An agency or school may choose to promptly honor a parent's standing request for access. While prompt responses are best, agency or school staff should not omit the procedure of verifying the authenticity of the request. Hence, it is important that agencies or schools establish internal management procedures related to handling requests from parents to review their child's record. These procedures should describe clearly all steps and the necessary forms, and designate the official who handles all requests. This will not only avoid confusion among staff at agency or school offices, but also facilitate the responding process.

C. Handling a Parent's Request

Procedures for responding to requests to review individual records should be established as part of a district's student records policy. Parents may be asked to submit a written request to review their child's education record. The district may design a sample request form or letter. See Exhibit 5-2 for a sample form. The form could explain the relevant federal and state laws, describe the access procedures, and identify the official designated by the agency or school to handle the request. This form should be available at school offices, although requests may be directed to the district office.

Since teachers and other school-based professionals have the most frequent contacts with parents, these professionals often receive informal requests for information about a student. If the scope of these requests is beyond the day-to-day communication about a student and the information can be found only in the education record, teachers should refer requesters to the appropriate school or district office. This will ensure that all requests are handled appropriately.

When you receive a written request, verify the requester's identification as soon as possible. Staff could check the education record and determine if there is no apparent reason, such as a legally binding document, to believe the requester may not have access to the student's record. Additional procedures may be added to verify the authenticity of the request. For instance, staff may call the parents using the telephone number listed in the school's records to verify if they have actually made the request.

Since, according to FERPA, an agency or school must comply with requests to review a record within forty-five days or less from the date of receipt of the request, you should makearrangements for access as promptly as possible. FERPA specifies that a school or district may not destroy the record for a student if a request for access to that record is pending. It is also advisable to determine if your state laws require a quicker response (i.e., fewer than forty-five days).

D. Managing the Review

After verifying the legitimacy of a request, the school or agency should notify the parent of the time and place to inspect the record. See the sample notice in Exhibit 5-3. A school or district staff member may be designated for managing the review. The role of this staff member might include:

  • Explaining the laws and regulations that safeguard the confidentiality of the information
  • Verifying the identification of the requester (through the use of an identification with the bearer's photograph)
  • Staying with the parent during the review to make sure the parent understands the contents of the record
  • Making sure the complete record is returned after the review
  • Answering questions about the policies and procedures regarding the review
  • Referring the parent to the appropriate resources if a parent has further questions about the contents of the record
At the end of the review, the parents may be asked to sign a form, such as the one in Exhibit 5-3, indicating that they have reviewed the record.

Parents may bring another person (e.g., an interpreter, a trusted friend, or an attorney) to review the record. The staff member managing the review should:

  • Explain the laws and regulations that safeguard the confidentiality of the education records, and the penalties to the agency or school of unauthorized disclosure.
  • Ask the parent to sign a consent form, such as the one in Exhibit 5-4, to allow the accompanying person access to the record.
  • Ask the accompanying person to sign an affidavit of non-disclosure, such as the one in Exhibit 5-4.
E. Providing Copies or Charging a Fee

FERPA does not require agencies or schools to provide copies of education records unless there are reasons (e.g., great distance, illnesses, disabilities, or a lack of building accessibility) it is impossible for parents or eligible students to inspect the records in person. A school district may establish in its policy whether it will provide copies of education records; such policy should specify the circumstances in which copies will not be provided.

As established in FERPA, the agency or school may not charge for search and retrieval of the records. However, it may charge for copies, copying time, and postage. Fees for copies of records, including transcripts, should be established in the school or district policy and publicized as needed. However, the fee imposed should not serve to deter parents from reviewing their child's record.

The agency or school also may allow the parent who is reviewing the records to make copies of parts of the records. If so, it is permissible to charge the parent for photocopying costs.

F. Handling Challenges to Record Contents

FERPA also provides parents, custodial or non-custodial, and eligible students the right to request that a school correct or amend records believed to be inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of a student's right. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligiblestudent has the right to place a statement with the record commenting on the contested information.

A school district should develop a written description of the procedures to notify parents and eligible students of their rights to challenge record contents and guide them through the process. Parents may challenge the contents of the education record and ask that a change be made if they believe that the record is inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the privacy rights of the student. In doing this, the parents must identify the part of the record they want to change, and specify why they believe it to be inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the student's rights. The parents should make a written request to amend the record. The school or district may provide a form for this purpose, such as the one in Exhibit 5-5.

The school or district may decide whether the request is valid. If the school or district can verify that the contents in question are in error, the record should be amended as soon as possible and the parent notified in writing of the changes. Exhibit 5-6 contains a sample form for this process.

G. Managing the Hearing Procedures

A school or district may decide not to make the requested correction. If so, you should notify the parents of the decision. The parents should be advised of their right to a hearing to challenge the information believed to be inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the student's rights. Exhibit 5-7 contains a sample form for this process. The parents should be asked to inform the school or district if they would like to schedule a hearing to challenge the record.

The school or district should notify the parents, as soon as feasible and reasonably in advance, of the date, location, and time of the hearing. The hearing must be presided over by someone who is considered a disinterested third party; this person may be a school or district employee. The parents must be allowed to present evidence relevant to the issues raised in the original request to amend the record. The parents may be assisted by other individuals such as an attorney.

When a decision is made about challenged content, the school or district should document the evidence presented in the hearing and reasons for the decision. The decision should be based solely on the evidence presented in the hearing.

If the decision of the hearing is that the challenged information is not inaccurate, not misleading, or not in violation of the student's rights, the school or district must notify the parent. This notification must inform the parents that they have a right to place in the record a statement commenting on the challenged information or a statement setting forth reasons for disagreeing with the decision that the record will not be changed. This statement must accompany the record when it is transferred to another entity in the future.

If the decision is that the challenged information is inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the student's rights, the record must be appropriately amended and the school or district must notify the parent, in writing, that the record has been amended. If the information is maintained in portions of the record located in more than one place in the school or district, then information in all locations should be corrected. 


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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
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