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. 

Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL  
717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: 916-444-9064 
Email:help@edlaw4students.com 
Fax: 916-444-1209
[please like my office on Facebook, subscribe via twitter and email, and check out my videos on Youtube!]

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.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Education Attorney Versus Education Advocate

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Attorney or non-attorney advocate?  What is the difference?  Parents faced with a school issue, such as expulsion or a special education problem, often do not know who can help.  Do parents really have to hire an attorney?  What about the lady you heard about who helps parents?  Here is the lowdown on advocate versus attorney and how it relates to your school issues.

I am an attorney, licensed to practice law in California.  However, a lot of what I do daily is advocacy.  Advocacy is basically helping a cause (my clients' cause).  Per Merriam-Webster.com "advocacy" (noun-thing) is "the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal."  To "advocate" (verb) is "to support or argue for (a cause, policy, etc.).  An "advocate" (noun- person) is "a person who argues for or supports a cause or policy."  So "advocate" can mean different yet similar things.

The distinction between my advocacy as a licensed attorney versus someone who is a non-attorney advocate, is the legal degree and the power to use it for the benefit of my clients.  This is not a small thing.  Being an attorney, I can use the courts, legally interpret the law, and use the power of the law to change my clients' situations.  I can also back up what I say with court action if my clients want to go that way.

An advocate who is not a lawyer, can "advocate" in the sense that they may rally for a cause, but they do not carry the power of the courts behind them.  They may not be formally trained, whereas lawyers have many years of training in law.  This is a big difference, and it means schools may treat a non-attorney advocate differently than they treat an attorney.  So who you pick may depend on how fast you want things done or how effective you want to be.

Lawyers practice advocacy, but advocacy with teeth (good enforceable laws), presuming the teeth are available.  In some situations there are only baby teeth involved (weaker laws) which give us less leverage.  Attorneys leverage what they have for their clients' benefit.  As my Contracts professor used to say, attorneys should: "Pound the law if you have the law.  Pound the facts if you have the facts, and pound the table if you have neither."  Sage advice.  Attorneys pound everything (not literally) with whatever they have, and fortunately for our clients it can be beneficial.

If you have ever received a letter from a lawyer and shook, you know why lawyers should be involved in school issues.  They have that unidentifiable power and you want that power to be leveraged to resolve your child's expulsion or to help with college problems or to help with a teacher who has gone too far.  You want to move things forward.

Advocates (attorney and otherwise), are needed in all fields to try to help people. However, the power of the law stands behind every attorney, which is why, if you invest your money to try to get something done, attorneys are a strong bet.  

[This communication may be considered a communication/solicitation for services]

Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL  
717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 
Phone: 916-444-9064 
Email:help@edlaw4students.com 
Fax: 916-444-1209
[please like my office on Facebook, subscribe via twitter and email, and check out my videos on Youtube!]


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.