The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (commonly known as FERPA) protects the private educational records of schoolchildren who attend public academic institutions. Parents Defending Education has created a “What is FERPA?” resource which provides background on the federal law and the rights and protections it guarantees.
FERPA is about transparency – the right to review your student’s Official Record, the right to have incorrect and misleading information in the record corrected, and the right to keep certain information about your student private from unauthorized entities.
Understandably, this is confusing. Many parents ask for examples of the types of things that violate FERPA.
Some examples of FERPA violations would include:
- A school refusing to share a student’s Official Student Record with a parent or authorized guardian. While the school does not have to give you a copy of the Record, they must make it available for inspection. Schools will send copies of the Record to parents who may live a great distance from the school.
- Schools must make a student’s Official Student Record available within a timely manner. This is typically 45 days. In the case of a scheduled Independent Academic Plan meeting for special ed services, learning disabilities etc., the school is often required to make these documents available within a few days of the meeting.
- Schools stating they do not have an Official Student Record. This comes up more often when a student has graduated from the K-12 system. Schools must keep the Official Student Record at the base school for 5 years after graduation. After 5 years, the district must retain the Official Student Record.
- A school refusing to correct an incorrect or misleading Official Student Record, as in the case of a transcript or disciplinary record. A school is required to correct a student record as soon as possible. If the school disagrees with the request to correct a record, a note can be placed in the file about the disagreement between the school and parent about the record.
- Some districts have started to keep a “secret file” for students, apart from the required Official Student Record. If a school is maintaining secret files shielded from parental inspection, the district is not being transparent and may be in violation of FERPA. Some districts are relying on the claim that certain pieces of information, often related to gender identity, name change and pronoun selection are allowed to be kept from parents under FERPA. There is no mention in FERPA that allows for schools or districts to keep a secret Official Student Record.
Parents are asking: “I believe there is a FERPA violation. Now What?”
There are several steps that parents can take, and questions that can be asked, when a FERPA violation is suspected. PDE recommends that you keep written records of all communications related to your FERPA concerns.
- Notify your child’s principal of the suspected violation and ask how they will remedy this violation. Be specific. Provide this notification in email format so that you have a record of the notification. If you do not receive a response, forward the email to your superintendent and school board member.
- Request your district’s FERPA enforcement policy from your principal, Superintendent and/or school board member. In addition to your principal, who needs to be notified of a suspected FERPA violation? Who does the notifying – you or your principal?
- Does your district have a “Management of Student Scholastic Record” document (or something with a similar name) that it requires each school to have available in their front office? If so, request to review that document. This document will often provide additional information about how a FERPA violation should be handled by your district.
- You have a right to request a formal FERPA Hearing. This request is typically made to the principal. If the principal is non-responsive, contact the superintendent and your school board member. Ask the school contact who within the district should attend the Hearing. The Hearing should be scheduled in a timely manner, you have the right to bring an attorney with you. If you are not bringing an attorney, it is recommended you bring another adult to witness the meeting and take notes.
There are some helpful resources and short videos on how to file a complaint and what happens when you file a complaint on the U.S. Department of Education website.
Below is the contact information and this is the link to the FERPA complaint form.
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20202-8520
6) Reach out to Parents Defending Education at any stage in this process. We are here to help!