Thursday, September 17, 2015

Student Records Problems? Contact The Family Policy Compliance Office

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Have you ever had a problem getting your or your child's student records from a school?  Or, have you encountered school staff speaking about your confidential student records in public locations or to other parents?  If so, there is an agency which may be able to help: the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO).

FPCO is a part of the United States Department of Education (USDOE) and is located in Washington DC. They enforce the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law addressing student records rights at schools which accept federal funding. 

Complaints are accepted by FPCO from across the country regarding public and private schools which breach students' records rights.  Due to jurisdiction being limited to schools accepting federal funds, usually private schools at the elementary and secondary levels are not subject to FERPA.  

Per the USDOE website and the "FERPA General Guidance for Parents," some of the breaches which FPCO investigates include:

1)  Failure of a school to allow inspection and review of student records by a student and/or his/her parents/representatives.
2)  Failure of a school to provide a process to challenge the factual contents of records (opinions, grades or "substantive decisions" are not subject to challenge).
3)  Wrongful disclosure of information from confidential records (unless the person learned of the information some other way, had an "official role" in making a decision leading to the protected record, or the school official receiving the information has a "legitimate educational interest").
4)  Issues involving student/parent permission to disclose/not disclose records.

FERPA grants records rights to adult students as well as custodial and non-custodial parents.

An FPCO complaint must be filed within 180 days and may be mailed to:

U.S. Department of Education
Family Policy Compliance Office
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202-8520

If you prefer to file electronically or would like more information on the whole process please visit the FPCO complaint page.

Be advised that FPCO complaints are not always the fastest way to go (a recent one I am aware of is still ongoing at nine months).  If you need to get a matter solved more quickly, involving an attorney is always an option.  I have been involved many times when parents could not get their children's records released or a college would not turn over copies.  I am always baffled when schools blatantly ignore FERPA and other laws which clearly apply to them.

So, if your requests for records have been denied, a teacher is spreading confidential information from records (e.g. special education or discipline information) around to improper people, or the school will not provide a process for you to challenge the factual contents of student records, a complaint lodged with FPCO may be warranted. 

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: 916-444-9064 
Fax: 916-444-1209
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Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

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