Colorado Privacy of School Records Laws

Federal law and Colorado state laws address the issue of ensuring public school records are kept confidential and aren’t disclosed unnecessarily. To learn more about Colorado and federal laws on the privacy of school records, take a look at the table below.

Colorado and Federal Codes Colorado Revised Statutes Sections 22-1-123: Protection of Student Data, which incorporates the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974. Another federal law that applies to student privacy is the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA).
What School Record Actions Require Parental Consent? The Colorado law refers to the federal FERPA law as to how a school district must handle parent or legal guardian requests for either student education records or amendments to the student school records after reviewing them. Also, school’s can’t release educational records without the parent or guardian’s written consent, except as permitted by FERPA.

If a school district needs written consent from a parent or guardian to release personally identifiably student’s records (other than directory information), they must provide the following specific information:

  1. Records to be released
  2. Reasons for the release
  3. Person or organization requesting the information
  4. Manner in which the records will be released
  5. Right to review or receive a copy of the records to be released

At the beginning of each school year, the parent or guardian of each student in a school district must be sent written notice of their rights under federal and Colorado law.

The PPRA protects the rights of parents and students by ensuring schools make instruction materials available to parents for inspection, including surveys and evaluations their children will participate in, and ensures schools get written parental consent before students are required to participate in those surveys or evaluations. This is also part of the Colorado law. Any student evaluation or assessment on the following topics can only be done with the written consent of the student’s parent or guardian:

  • Political or religious affiliations
  • Mental conditions
  • Sexual behaviors
  • Illegal or self-incriminating behavior
  • Critical appraisals of the student’s close family
  • Legally privileged relationships or the equivalent, such as with a lawyer, doctor, or clergy
  • Income, except as required by law (such as for public benefits including free school lunch)
  • Social Security Number

Written consent by a parent to a survey or evaluation of his or her student is only valid if the school district makes a copy of the survey document available for viewing at convenient places and times for at least two weeks after parents receive the written notice. This would include information on:

  1. How the assessment will be disseminated
  2. What information will be obtained
  3. The purpose of the assessment
  4. Who will have access to the information, and
  5. How a parent or guardian can grant or deny permission to access the school records or survey their child for this purpose.

Note: Once a student is 18 years old or is attending a college or vocational school, consent is only required by the student.

Exceptions to Parental Consent Requirements Of course, there are some exceptions to requiring parental consent, for example, when there are immediate safety concerns. These exceptions include:

  • Reporting suspected child abuse or neglect
  • Assessing a child for a suicide risk or other threats
  • Complying with a court order for school records, such as a subpoena of the school records of a defendant or witness to a crime
  • Disclosing disciplinary actions of a student who poses a safety risk to themselves, other students, or the community or to other teachers who have a legitimate educational interest in the behavior of the student
  • Providing to law enforcement or prosecutors for authorized investigations or prosecutions of potential domestic or international terrorism
Penalty for Violation of School Record Privacy Laws Under FERPA, the U.S. Secretary of Education can take appropriate actions against a school district that isn’t complying. Most significantly, the Secretary can stop giving the school district federal funds for failure to comply with these school privacy laws. This can make operating schools difficult. Before that action is taken, the Secretary of Education works with the school district to comply voluntarily.
Who Can You Contact with Concerns? Parents or students who believe their school privacy rights may have been violated can file a complaint with the Education Department by contacting the Family Policy Compliance Office at 1-8000-USA-LEARN or 202-260-3887 or by mail:

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-5920

If something suspicious or inappropriate has happened to your school records or those of your child, you may want to speak with an experienced Colorado education law attorney. An educational lawyer can inform you about when a teacher or school is required to disclose information about your student, who they are allowed to disclose that information to, and how to get student records when a school refuses to provide you access to them. In addition, if your student was harmed by the improper disclosure of school records to a third party, an education lawyer may be able to help you recover damages.

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