Confidentiality and IEPs

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I am the Assistant Coordinator of an Adult Learner Services program that assists adults who left high school before graduation. These students are now seeking a GED and often discuss the difficulty they had in school and their previous IEPs.

The program’s new Special Education Director stated that I should not ask about the IEP. It is against policy and rules of the Special Education Dept.

Is it “breaking the rules” to ask students about their concerns and what was included in the previous IEP?

There is no law that prohibits you from asking if a child has/had an IEP… or requesting a copy of the child’s file that includes evaluations and IEPs. You need this information to help your clients.

Many school administrators are woefully ignorant about confidentiality, often advising staff that IEPs should locked away so no one can see them. This is NOT legally correct.

The special education law specifically states that teachers, related services providers, and others who work with the child must have easy access to the child’s IEP. This is the only way the adults will know the student’s needs and what the adults need to do to meet the child’s needs.

Diplomacy Counts

When you work with administrators, you try to be diplomatic.

I’d write a polite letter, perhaps with a short summary of how you work with kids, and request the written policy that prohibits people in the helping professions from asking if a student has an IEP. You may find that the policy is “unwritten” or made up on the fly.

Another Question

You said:

I  recently went to a school meeting to discuss the law that began in July of 09 where no child can exit high school before the age of 18 (currently the age is 16).

I was surprised to hear this. There is no federal law about this so it must be a state law.

  • Have you seen and read it?
  • What is the purpose of such a law?
  • Will schools actually provide additional services that they didn’t provide for the first 10-11 years of the child’s school career?

As you probably know, schools can be cruel, unfriendly places for some students, especially children who “underachieve.” Many governors are moving to allow students to leave high school earlier, while providing more effective options to prepare kids for life after school.

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act

FERPA is a federal statute. The purposes of FERPA are twofold: to ensure that parents have access to their children’s educational records and to protect the privacy rights of parents and children by limiting access to these records without parental consent.

FERPA deals with access to educational records, parental right to inspect and review records, amendment of records, and destruction of records.

  1. I am a Special Education Teacher (Resource Level A & Level B) and I have just discovered that my General Education Teacher took the IEP out of the classroom, off the school campus, and showed it to her professor. She is a General Education Teacher who is taking a Special Education class. Is this legal to show a non-IEP team member a student’s IEP? If no, which law states this explicitly?

    • The law about confidentiality doesn’t explicitly deal with this scenario. The IEP is an education record. Assuming the general ed teacher provides the child with educational services, she is supposed to have access to the IEP. She took the IEP to her special education class that met off-campus.

      Technically, this may have been a violation of confidentially but was anyone harmed? If no one was harmed, “no harm, no foul.” I suggest you have a conversation with her, especially since you work closely together. Don’t assume she knows the rules relating to IEPs and confidentiality (an area that is confusing to many experts). Try to be pleasant, helpful, and understanding when you have this convo. Good luck!

  2. My son (9) has an IEP and for the last three years, nothing has truly been done to help him. After personal boundaries were crossed, I brought in my Aunt and Uncle to the next meeting (Behavior Specialist/Special Ed Teacher) as advocates for my son. Now I’m being told that no further action will be taken unless I sign a release form, however, this was the same form I previously refused to sign due to the school harassing me about getting information for medication from his pediatrician. I was never told about this consent form being necessary for advocates and now I’m conflicted.

    • Districts are required to keep certain information about students with disabilities confidential. Typically release forms are used to get parent permission to release written information or allow non-school staff to hear information at IEP meetings. The form shows that the school did not violate the confidentiality rules.

  3. My sons school uses chrome books to do their lessons. However, my son was caught looking up inappropriate material (along with other factors) So now he is not allowed to have a chrome book. His assignments are written. Shouldn’t this be written in his IEP? If so, where would I find this accommodation?

  4. Can some one tell me if it is allowed for someone to leave a IEP meeting and bring in someone that was not registered as a member of the meeting (superintendent) to tell me that my child does not belong in the school and that I need to think about my child’s education because I am not going to live forever…. Superintendent announced he can go to anything with out permission.

  5. Is it ok for teachers to talk about a specific students I.E.P in front of other students ? As if to use it to humiliate the student. ::York County school district York P.A

  6. I am a special education teacher, and have a student whose grandmother tries to act as parent or guardian. I received a call yesterday from a neurologist office that said they were invited to participate in the IEP meeting scheduled for today. Mother wasn’t aware why he was being invited. If grandmother has no legal rights is she allowed access to IEP, ask questions regarding services, and invite others to meetings? I want to make sure I can clearly show grandmother and mother what the law states regarding confidentiality and participation.

    • Do you know if a Court has given the grandmother legal custody?

      The individual who has legal custody of the child – biological parent, grandparent, foster parent – may invite other individuals who are knowledgeable about the child to the IEP meeting.

      The issue is not confidentiality but who has a legal right to make decisions about the child’s education. If the mother has custody, she may invite the grandmother (and the neurologist). If the mother invites grandmother, I expect she will ask questions but she doesn’t have a right to invite other individuals to the meeting. Good luck!

  7. I am a sped paraprofessional and I’m wondering if it’s common or ok by law to be setting up the IEP meetings for the parents and teachers ??
    Thanks in advance. Kara

  8. My child applied for admission to a private school. As part of the application, the school requested a copy of my child’s IEP, which I provided. My child was denied admission to the school based on the IEP. Question – does the school have any confidentiality obligations with respect to my child’s IEP? As an extreme example – could they publish her IEP?

    • I have the same question. I was told by school social worker that IEP records are not considered part of the official school records and, if the IEP is no longer relevant, there is no need to send IEP records to the new school. But I am not confident about the social worker’s response. Any other responses you’ve gotten?

  9. My son’s teacher called me up to screen where he does the Zoom remote learning. She had two students online with her when she begins to discuss why she couldn’t do a letter for him to receive Social Security. I sent her an email requesting a letter but I didn’t understand why she called me up to screen since she has never done this before. Then she told me to get his IEP. She didn’t read anything but referred to some things in the IEP I didn’t like that this was discussed while there were two students who are at home remotely. There was no telling who was listening. I spoke with the Principal, she made it seem like it was no big deal. She said well she didn’t mention his social security number or anything like that. I asked the Principal did she see the Zoom video she said no she did not

  10. I am asking should The IEP STATE ALL NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR OF THE CHILD FOR JUSTIFICATION OF A SERVICE.
    FOR EXAMPLE
    MY SON HAS 4 major referrals and suspension. Why does this type of information need to be on a written document

    • The IEP needs to describe your child’s weaknesses in order to generate goals and determine placement. Without an accurate description of your child, it is hard to do those things. So yes, the IEP should be a detailed description of your child’s behavior and academics. Additionally, should your child move, the new school will have the IEP to know his history of behaviors and to make sure the proper supports are immediately put into place.
      Also, if your child has had 4 major referrals and suspension, I would make sure to request an FBA to determine why the behavior is occurring.

      • He is not moving schools and when does The privacy acts and confidential information stay private. He doesn’t have physical or emotional issues He just gets bullied a lot

  11. The CST office is a trailer. Individual team members use their phone to discuss individual cases with psychiatrists, physicians, parents etc. secretaries are present. Bus drivers and aides come in / out all day using the bathroom. It is impossible not to overhear phone conversations as you walk across the trailer. I don’t think parents would want personal information about their child, family, health issues exposed to those who are not directly involved in their case. What responsibilities does the school system have to provide an appropriate space for case managers to communicate while protecting confidentiality?

  12. I was reassigned after a three day paid leave. When I came back someone had cleaned out my classroom and left all my belongings in front of the school. Included with my belongings was a black trash bag full of all kinds of special ed papers including IEPs and anything you can think of
    I am very angry with the district because I was done very wrong. What I’m wondering is, is there anything I can do to get back at the school with this big black trash bag of special ed papers that I have in my possession that I should not have? I know that is being caddy but I was treated so unfairly after working for that school for 15 years with an unblemished record and not a single parent complaint or discipline problem so, yeah, I’m a little salty about this.

  13. Is there a law in place stating that the school district must provide a translator who is certified to translate at the IEP meetings?

    • Federal rule 300.322(e) address that schools must “insure that the parent understands the proceedings of the IEP Team meeting” & this may involve providing an interpreter. It does not mention qualifications of the person. This would be a state rule, if there is one in your state.

  14. I want to know which steps do I take. Last year my son IEP teacher discussed his information with parents. This year we had a tele conference for his IEP. And another parent kept coming in on the call. While we where discussing his IEP. Can I sue them?

  15. Our team has been working to complete my son’s IEP since October. Earlier this month, the district’s superintendent informed me via email that a consultant had been hired to help the district with completing the IEP. I have signed no release of information form – is this a violation of FERPA?

  16. Can an Earlychildhood Director tell another family about another child’s IEP and what it entails?

  17. Recently a school social worker claimed she left papers concerning my son’s Iep info and psychological assessment in my door but the papers were found outside my door on the ground by my neighbor. I called the school to complain and I was told she was trying to meet a deadline before an Iep meeting for him , as to why it was done that way. I thought my it was wrong because it contains confidential information regarding my son.

    • It was obviously a mistake. It sounds like they were going above and beyond to get your son’s IEP completed on time. If it was me, unless my son was harmed in some way, I would be focused on more pressing issues.

      I believe we have a finite amount of goodwill “in reserve” with the school’s we work with. We need to use it wisely. Make a big noise over big issues and let the small issues go – you won’t be seen as “that parent” that puts everyone on defense even before the next meeting starts.

  18. Can an afterschool program or summer camp ask if my child has an IEP, 504, or behavior plan as part of enrollment? The section is not optional and if YES then an additional form must be completed to determine enrollment. Is this an ethics issue? Secondly, it is a private community program not associated with the school.

    • Not sure, but I think that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not include programs like this. Certain situations & organizations are excluded., & this may be one of them. Anyone know for sure?

    • I’m not a lawyer, so keep that in mind…but I’m pretty sure if the program is open to the public and engaged in a commercial (for profit) activity, they cannot discriminate. If this was a non-profit type charity that organized the camp they may be able to exclude some kids.

      However, if this camp is included under Title III, they may NOT screen children (asking for IEP’s etc.) for the purpose of excluding them, but they CAN screen children for the purpose of ensuring they have the accommodations and safety needs in place for that child.

  19. Hi. Could you please tell me where I can find the information in your article?

    “The special education law specifically states that teachers, related services providers, and others who work with the child must have easy access to the child’s IEP. ”

    I cannot find a law about special education that states the information from your article.

    I am a student at Northern Arizona University that has spent many hours in the classroom. I will be graduating this year and have only been allowed to see IEPs if the student was 18 years old and gave me permission. I have never been allowed to see an IEP of a student with special needs that I was working with. Which is frustrating for both of us.

    If I could get my hand on a clear and concise law, I would like to bring it with me. Thanks

  20. Are teachers allowed to speak to another parent about certain topics discussed during an iep meeting?

  21. Just a quick question… I work for the school system, and I believe that some HIPAA, FERPA rights has been violated, by a supervisor who has let someone who does not have an upper management position handle and look over and handle students IEP’s with there full P.H.I along with social security numbers, address, and confidential health information. Should I go to HR ? I’m in the state of North Carolina if that helps

  22. I think ferpa is written for more kids in college than special need kids. I think parents name and what they say should be protected under confidentiality law. Since parents are involved in meeting and want their confidentiality protect. Is there any way to change it?

  23. In an IEP meeting with SPED director and speech therapist, other children’s name on the schedule I am looking at to figure out a time for my child. They also infront of me discuss what a problem the number of children our school has on IEPs.

    Because I am on the board of our school and looking into special ed resources I requested the number of students we sent to summer school and the invoice of the cost. The email they sent to me contained the names of the children we sent.

    Isn’t this a violation of their privacy and do we need to notify them that this has happened.

  24. I am a special education teacher/administrative assistant who might be working with billing for my school and want to be as informed as possible about the difference between FERPA and HIPAA so as not to infringe on client/business relationships as related to privacy. Please advise.

    Thank you

  25. I am missing where FERPA addresses teachers or aides discussing a student with an IEP, their behavior, etc. with parents of other children who attend the school. I have always been told confidentiality laws cover this but don’t find this exactly referenced.

  26. Child’s personal info sent to home of child predator due to wrong address typed by school. N.Y.S. Family Compliance Office has done nothing despite repeated requests by parent to do so. Any suggestions?

  27. If the students are over 18 they likely control their records unless educational rights were transferred to another guardian or individual due to developmental concerns (such as in the case of individuals with severe cognitive and adaptive skill impairments). The school district should be able to provide any and all information as long as a FERPA release of information is signed by the student (if over 18) or whomever has educational rights for that student.

    Revealing a student even has or had an IEP is confidential information and is typically not shared due to privacy concerns in many districts. This practice is similar to outside medical and mental health agencies not sharing information due to HIPAA.

    The best practice is to simply seek a release of information between the district and the agency.

    • “Revealing a student even has or had an IEP is confidential information and is typically not shared due to privacy concerns in many districts. This practice is similar to outside medical and mental health agencies not sharing information due to HIPAA.”

      I am applying to new schools for my 11yo and they request school records and relevant information. Do I need to include information on his IEP?

      The best practice is to simply seek a release of information between the district and the agency.

  28. One caution…When dealing with historical information be aware that a previous IEP may have been written under an older statute. IDEA 2004 changed many things. Also be aware of the rapid advances in diagnosis and treatment. The Tourettes community, for example, has seen a lot of change in meds used and treatment options, meaning that an IEP now would quite naturally look very different from one (if you got one) written years ago. If you are dealing with adults you might see this dynamic. From a practical standpoint, information is good. Those with hidden disabilities fight the confidential issue……it can be used in a negative way….makes it easy to ignore a disablity.

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