Is the school subject to FERPA?
If an "educational agency or institution" accepts monies from the U.S. Department of Education, then the educational agency or institute is subject to the FERPA requirements. Practically speaking, the following institutions must comply with FERPA: public schools (kindergarten through twelfth grade) and nearly all public and private post-high school institutions.
Are you a student?
Under the newly-revised FERPA, effective January 8, 2009, a "student" is an "individual who is or has been 'in attendance' at an educational agency or institution..." This definition includes individuals who "'attend' classes but are not physically present, including attendance by videoconference, satellite, Internet, or other electronic information and telecommunications technologies" and during a "work-study program."
Are you entitled to inspect and review the education records?
Under FERPA, a parent is entitled to "inspect and review" educational records. The right to inspect and review a student's education records transfers to the "eligible student" when one of two events occurs: (a) the student turns eighteen years old (and a legal guardianship has not been established), or; (b) the student is in a post-high school (e.g., college) program. A parent can access the eligible student's records, without the student's consent, in limited situations (e.g., in certain "health or safety" emergency situations or the eligible student is a "dependent" for tax purposes).
Is the requested item an education record?
"Education records" are "records, files, documents, and other materials, which (i) contain information directly related to a student; and (ii) are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution." The definition includes "all instructional materials, including teacher's manuals, films, tapes, or other supplementary material which will be used in connection with any survey, analysis or evaluation as part of any applicable program..." 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g(a)(4)(A). Examples of an educational record include: correspondence between school and student/parent, emails correspondence, tapes of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, disciplinary records, transcripts, etc. An example of a document that does not fall within the definition of an education record includes a teacher's "personal notes." However, if the teacher shares those notes with another person, then the notes become an education record.
I meet all of the definitions, so now what do I do?
Take the following steps: (a) Draft a FERPA request for all education records, in writing; (b) Date and sign the written request; (c) Make a copy of the FERPA request for your file; (d) Deliver (or send, certified return-receipt so you have proof of delivery) the original document to the appropriate school personnel; (e) If you hand-deliver the FERPA request, ask a school official to sign for delivery; (f) Monitor the number of days. You are entitled to inspect and review all education records within forty-five calendar days of your written request. 20 U.S.C. 1232g(f).