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Generally, only a student’s parents or legal guardians have access to the student’s school records. These include grade school, middle school, and high school records. The primary objective is to protect the student’s privacy. It is usually illegal to disclose certain types of information to a third party without a parent’s consent. Some exceptions can be made in case of an emergency or other extraordinary circumstance. Parents typically have a right to the information even if they are divorced and do not share custody of the child.
In the U.S., the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law outlining the rights of parents and students, along with the responsibilities of schools districts, as they pertain to school records. There is also a section of the law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that specifically addresses a parent’s access rights to a child’s special education records. In addition to abiding by federal law, most states have passed their own rules and regulations concerning access to school records.
FERPA sets out three basic responsibilities of school districts regarding education records: They have to grant parents the right to view their children’s records. They also must give them the right to correct the information contained in the files if necessary. Finally, they are obligated to inform parents when they are disclosing information to a third party that might be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy.
In addition to school grades, most school records contain what is commonly referred to as directory information. This is personal data about a student that would not be considered harmful if released to a third party. Invasion of privacy is typically not a concern when disclosing directory information. Some examples include the student’s name, home address and contact information, and the dates that he or she attended the school. In many cases, there is height and weight information given for students on athletic teams, for college recruitment purposes.
Parents normally must submit a written request to access their child’s school records. State laws may vary, but schools usually have 45 days to respond to the request. Non-custodial parents also have a right to the information, but the school does not necessarily have to provide it at no charge. They can ask the parent to view the school records in person, or they can charge a nominal fee for copying and sending documents to a parent who is unable to travel to the school.
Once a student is 18 years old or begins attending a post-secondary institution, the rights of the parents transfer to the student. There are certain cases in which the parent will have continued rights to access the child’s school records, however. The student may give consent for his or her parents to view financial information, for example, if he or she is considered a dependent for tax purposes.