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How and why to obtain your child's school records

Get the information that drives school decisions about your child. Find out how to obtain your own copies of your child's school records.

By Deidre Hayden

As a parent of a child with learning disabilities, you have a special interest in knowing what is in your child's school records. This is true because of the significant information these records offer you about your child and also because of the emphasis schools place on these records when making educational decisions. If any information in your child's records is inaccurate, biased, incomplete, or inconsistent, this material may well result in inaccurate decisions regarding your child's right to special education services. For these reasons you must know how to obtain, interpret, and correct these records and how to use them effectively in school meetings. This article will give you an overview of your rights to your child's records.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

Schools are required by federal and state laws to maintain certain records and to make these records available to you upon request. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) establish the minimum requirements school systems must meet in maintaining, protecting, and providing access to students' school records. State laws will sometimes go beyond these minimum requirements and provide parents with additional rights to review, modify, or seek other changes in these records. Be sure to obtain a copy of your own state's and school district's school records laws and procedures by contacting your school district's director of special education.

Obtaining Your Child's Records from the Local School

Getting copies of your child's school records should be fairly easy. While federal law does not specifically require school systems to provide parents with copies of these records, in practice most school systems do so upon request.

Types of Files

Begin by asking the school principal about the location of your child's various files or records. These will include:

  • Cumulative file. The principal will have your child's cumulative file, which you will want to see and copy. Often the cumulative file contains little more than a profile card with personal identification data and perhaps academic achievement levels, some teacher reports, and report cards.
  • Confidential file. Also accessible to parents, the confidential file may be kept at your child's school, or in a central administrative office where the special education program offices are located. The file is called confidential because access to the information is limited to certain individuals. Your child's confidential record includes all of the reports written as a result of the school's evaluation; reports of independent evaluators, if any; medical records that you have had released; summary reports of evaluation team and eligibility committee meetings; your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP); and, often, correspondence between you and school personnel.
  • Compliance file (some schools). Some school systems keep the reports of eligibility meetings, correspondence between the parents and school officials, and other similar documents in a separate compliance file. The contents of the compliance file demonstrate that the school system has met the timelines, notification, and consent regulations required by IDEA.
  • Discipline file (some schools). Some schools may also maintain a separate file regarding discipline issues involving long-term suspension or expulsion.

A good bit of detective work is sometimes required to understand your school system's individual filing system!

Comments from readers

"My sister in law went to my niece's school and asked for a copy of her entire school records because she is moving my niece to another school in order to protect her from further harm. My niece is being bullied. These bullies has gone so far as to slashing my sister in laws' tires as she walked in to school to pick up my niece. The school refused and told her she is only entitled to a copy of my niece's transcript. "
"how do I obtain school records from schools my child has attended n another state if i do not even know the name of the school "
"what do you do when the school tells you other than: previous IEP, review of existing data, and procedural safe guards...there are no other files. I asked for cumulative, confidential, compliance, and discipline. And was told there are only what Ive already been given, previous IEP, review of existing data, a procedural safe guards. The prinicpal told me this."