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I Have a FERPA Problem - School Won't Help!

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My son Mike is in the 11th grade and is reading on a 2.5 grade level. I want an independent professional school won't helpto review my son's records.

I spent four hours on the phone but can't get copies of my son's records. I called the school to get the records - they said to give them a few days. I want to get these records right away.

called the school my younger son attends. The principal said I could come in any time and he would copy my son's records.

I called the high school again to tell them what the principal said. They hung up on me. When I called again, they said federal law gives them 45 days to honor my request.

Is there a law that says I have to wait 45 days? What can I do?

Your Wrightslaw Game Plan

Stop. Think. Gather information. Control your emotions. Develop a plan.

You say, "I have a FERPA problem. What can I do?"

FERPA is your least important problem. You son is in the eleventh grade and is illiterate. This problem has been ongoing for years, it did not happen overnight.

You decide you want an independent evaluator to examine the school records to find out what they failed to do.

Over a period of four hours, you called the school repeatedly to request (or demand?) copies of your child's records. At first, the school asked for a few days to get the records together. When you continued to call, they changed their position and told you that the law gives them 45 days to respond to your requests.

You managed to ensure that your relationship with school staff is polarized. No one wants to help you because you are perceived as unreasonable, demanding - or worse.

You need a crash course in advocacy skills.

Here are some ideas about how you can deal with these problems.

1. Your child's records.

The law that governs your right to view your child's records is the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). 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
  • destruction of records

You need to read the FERPA statute and regulations. See Chapter 9 in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, pages 307-318. You can also find the statute and regulations on a legal website like Findlaw.

Read FAQs about FERPA. For more articles, FAQs, law, and regulations, go to the FERPA  topics page on Wrightslaw.

But ... knowing your rights is less important than knowing how to use tactics and strategy.

To request your son's records, write a polite businesslike letter asking for a copy of your son's file. In the letter, ask if the school has a photocopying fee and what this fee is.

Include a short paragraph about your son that explains your request. For example you may say that he is in the 11th grade, is reading at the 2.5 grade level, and that you are afraid he will graduate from school and not be able to read.

Keep your letter short - one page. Offer to help with the photocopying. Offer to pick the records up.

2. Your child's academic problems.

You need help in deciding how to deal with your son's serious academic problems. We suggest that you consult with an educational consultant or advocate for help in developing a plan.

But, before you can develop a rational, workable plan, your son will need a comprehensive evaluation from a private sector expert in reading and /or language disorders. The advocate or educational consultant may be able to recommend an evaluator.

Read this article about finding a consultant or advocate. Go to the Yellow Pages for Kids site where you will find a list of evaluators, consultants, advocates, and attorneys in your state. You may also want to contact the International Dyslexia Association for a list of evaluators in your area.

3. Learn how to advocate

Assume the school does not provide you with copies of your child's records. Assume school staff stall or delay because they are angry at you. What will you do?

If you request a hearing or file a complaint, the people who felt hounded by you will testify about your repeated phone calls.

How will a decision-maker view you? Will the decision-maker think you are a concerned parent? Will the decision-maker conclude that you are unreasonable and demanding -- and write you off?

To learn how to advocate for your child, you need to spend time reading articles on the Wrightslaw site. Start with the information on the Advocacy topics page - you will learn about emotions (and how they can be your worst enemy), and how to deal with a parent-school crisis. If you are really serious about learning how to advocate for you child, get a copy of Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy.

Begin with these articles about parent advocacy:

Emergency! Crisis! Help! for parents like you who "shoot themselves in the foot" because they were emotional and overwhelmed.

Advocating for Your Child - Getting Started. Good special education services are intensive and expensive. Resources are limited. If you have a child with special needs, you may wind up battling the school district for the services your child needs. To prevail, you need information, skills, and tools.

Asking the Right Questions. How does the school perceive you? This article will teach you how to ask questions and get help.

Understanding the Playing Field. Article by Indiana advocate Pat Howey discusses trust, expectations, power struggles between parents and schools and how to avoid them, your parental role, and the need to understand different perspectives. Read article.

From Emotions to Advocacy

Read our book, From Emotions to Advocacy - The Special Education Survival Guide, 2nd Edition (FETA for short). In the book, you will learn about:

* 6 reasons for parent-school conflict
* strategies to resolve parent-school conflict
* the "rules of the game"
* assumptions parents must make
* paper trails & documentation
* how to write letters
* how to prepare for meetings
* how to maintain control during meetings

The book has sample letters you can use - how to request your child's records and how to request a records review. The book even has a chapter about FERPA!

The FETA book has a companion web site called FetaWeb with additional resources to supplement the contents of the book.

In Summation

Your goal is get school personnel to want to help. You will not succeed if you hound people who work at the school. (If you have ever worked in customer service, you know what we mean.) If you persist, they will write you off as a crazy parent.

If your son is reading at a 2.5 level, his problems are not new. You need to slow down, get your emotions under control, and spend your time planning.

Write businesslike letters to request information and help. No more phone calls!

Good luck!

Pete and Pam Wright

Last revised: 04/28/08

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