IEP 101: Requesting Your Child’s Education Records

Education records refer to any information about a current or former student that has been officially documented by a school administration — whether that’s through handwriting, print, digital filing, video and/or audio recordings, and so on. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives a parent the right to access their child’s educational records and the right to use those records to file a complaint with the Department of Education if needed (but note that FERPA typically only protects the privacy of public school records). Moreover, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also includes protections that apply to the education records of special education students.

Here, special education attorney Grace Clark and special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka give us the lowdown on what to do if you need to request these records for your child.

First, you’ll need to figure out what exactly you’re looking for.

 


  What is included in school records?

  • Transcripts of your child’s grades, test scores, special education records (including those for any services provided to your child under IDEA), completed courses, academic specializations, and extracurricular activities.
     
  • Official letters regarding your child’s status in school.
     
  • Awards your child won in school and any diplomas they earned.
     
  • Disciplinary records that may show issues relating to behavior or academics.
     
  • Medical and health records (including immunization records) either provided by school nurses and/or school medical professionals, or those collected by the administration after you (the parent) provided them.
     
  • Documentation of attendance and schools attended.
     


  What is *not* included in education records?

  • School records do not include more informal notes that may have been kept by a school employee for their own personal use or memory. For example, a teacher’s daily in-class attendance notes would not be included, whereas an official attendance record submitted to the administration would.
     
  • Work samples are not typically kept in student records either. None of the statutes that regulate student records (FERPA, IDEA, the California Education Code, and the California Administrative Code, Title 5) specifically require that your child’s assignments be maintained by the school.
    • However, you can request that your child’s work samples are provided with their records, at least to the extent that these assignments are already “kept and maintained by the educational agency.”
    • A parent could argue that any work sample brought by a teacher to an IEP meeting to demonstrate your child’s performance should then be maintained in their student file, and available upon request.
    • At the same time, it would be unrealistic for a school to save and file every work sample ever made by every student.
       


  How long does it take to request records?

  • While schools are not required to keep education records for any set period of time under federal law, California’s state laws differ. Here, school districts must keep educational records for three years after they stop being “useful” — which typically means three years after your child has left the district.
     
  • California also requires that a parent is given their child’s school records within five business days of a written or oral request (and prior to any IEP meeting or resolution meeting). Under FERPA, the school has to make the records available to the parent within 45 days.
    • Additionally, IDEA requires that special education students (or their parents) must be able to view their educational records “without unnecessary delay“ before IEP meetings, due process, or resolution sessions.
       
  • You will likely be emailed a digital copy of your child’s records upon request very quickly.
     


  Who can request records?

  • Only a parent or guardian has the right under FERPA to request and review a student's educational records.
     
  • Individuals over the age of 18 or those who are enrolled in a postsecondary institution have the right to view their own education records.
     
  • If you do not live in commuting distance from your child’s school and you can’t travel to the campus to view the records in person, California law requires the school to provide a copy. (The school may charge a fee for this service unless it would prevent the parent or student from accessing the records.)
     
  • Parents of students covered by IDEA, as well as those students themselves, do not need to provide consent when asking someone else to view their education records. A representative of the parent or student can review the educational records without written consent from that parent or student.
     


  How do you request records?

  • Contact the school to ask what is needed to see your child’s records — a request form may have to be completed. (Keep a copy of the form or ask for a copy once you’ve completed it, and make sure the form has been dated so that the school adheres to the required timeline.)
     
  • It’s a good idea to include a list of the documents you want (assessment reports/plans, progress reports, report cards, IEP documentation, medical records, etc.).
     
  • If the district does not have a form, write a letter requesting access to your child’s records. (You can use this sample letter!) Then mail, email, or hand deliver the letter to the district’s director of special education — and get proof that it was delivered.
    • You can share the letter with your child’s principal, special education teacher, school psychologist, and any other employee involved in your child’s education.
       
  • Once you’ve received the records, you can make copies for your own documentation and personal use (for example, you may want to take notes on them).

If you encounter any obstacles or confusion during this process, contact the school district and ask for the office of the director of special education. They’ll be able to further explain relevant laws and procedures around requesting your child’s educational records.

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