Details on State Privacy of School Records

School Record Privacy: Overview

A typical child spends 13 years in the school system, from kindergarten through high school graduation. An enormous volume of data is generated during that time, primarily test scores and other academic records. But schools also generate data related to student health (school nurse records, for instance), interactions with counselors, disciplinary records, and other information not intended for the public. Some of this data could be misused in the wrong hands, such as blackmail or identity theft, which is why both federal and some state laws protect the privacy of school records.

Federal law protects the privacy of student records in schools that receive federal funding (which includes most public schools), but some states have even more protections. See FindLaw's School Privacy section for related articles.

Privacy of School Records: State Laws

Most state laws addressing the confidentiality of school records restrict access to parents. State penalties for violations of school record privacy laws typically include injunctive relief, fines, and the ability to sue. Many statutes also detail which authorities besides the students' parents have access to these records. For example, Arizona law states that the Department of Juvenile Corrections has access in some circumstances.

States with their own school record privacy laws include:

  • Arkansas: Records regarding handicapped students or foster children are to be kept confidential by respective school districts and the Department of Education.
  • Connecticut: Communication relating to alcohol or drugs between the nurse and student need not be disclosed to a parent.
  • District of Columbia: Student's health file shall be confidential and subject to inspection, disclosure, and use only as applicable under District and federal law.
  • Illinois: Inspection allowed by students and parents but restricted to third parties. Information communicated in confidence by a student or parents to school personnel is not available. All rights and privileges become the student's exclusively at age 18.
  • Massachusetts: If a school fails to provide a transcript within thirty days of the initial request, the student or parent may petition the court. The court may issue any remedies it deems necessary under the circumstances, including court costs and attorney’s fees.

The Family Educational Records Protection Act (FERPA)

All schools that receive federal funding are subject to the federal Family Educational Records Protection Act (FERPA). Many states specifically reference FERPA in their statutes. It was originally passed in 1976 and has been amended repeatedly. FERPA's purpose is to guarantee parents free access to student school records. Under provisions of the Act, the Secretary of Education has the authority to withhold all federal funding to institutions that do not make school records available to a student's parents.

There are exceptions to this rule. These include:

  • Authorizing the transfer of transcripts when a student changes schools or applies for admission elsewhere
  • Researchers doing studies of educational techniques and practices when such research can be conducted confidentially and anonymously
  • State or federal officials conducting audits of public assistance programs
  • In the course of normal business

If you believe your child's school records have been improperly disclosed, you may want to speak with an education law attorney in your state.

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