A parent or guardian may need to request student records for reasons varying from a special education evaluation to dealing with a disciplinary proceeding. Whatever the reason for requesting records, some general basics should be followed. In this article we will look at the various laws covering student records and best practices when making a request.
Under New Jersey law, “student records” are defined as student related information maintained by a school district for purposes of second-party review. N.J.A.C. §6A:32-2.1. Accordingly, the relatively broad definition includes obvious student records such as attendance, academic and disciplinary information and, in some circumstances, the not so obvious such as emails.
Access to student records by parents and guardians is ensured under several laws including:
- the federal Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act (20 U.S.C. §1232g);
- the New Jersey Pupil Records Act and regulations (N.J.S.A. §18A:36-19, N.J.A.C. §6A:32-7.5);
- the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) (N.J.S.A. §47:1A-1, et seq.); and
- under a common law right to access public records.
Gaining access to student records can be as easy as sending an email to your school and as difficult as filing a lawsuit. In any event, the way to start is to send a written request to your school district’s administration. You should check to see whether your school district has an OPRA form on which requests may be made. When making the request be sure to include the following:
- Writing: The request should be in written form, such as a letter or email, sent to the school district’s administration or “records custodian” if such an individual has been designated. If sending by mail be sure to use a method which confirms receipt.
- Dated: It is best to date a request so that a record is created as to when the request was made. An email will obviate the need to specifically include a date within the body of the request.
- Identification: Clearly identify yourself and the student. State your relationship in a way that makes it obvious you are authorized to receive the student’s confidential records, e.g., parent or legal guardian.
- Address: Provide a mailing or electronic address where records may be sent.
- Specific Requests: Make sure you specify the types of records you are asking for such as attendance, academic, or disciplinary records, among others. Do not just ask for “student records” generally as vague requests are disfavored.
- Legal basis: The request should specifically state it is being made under all the laws mentioned above. Citing these laws will provide more options should you need to go to court to force the school to produce records.
- Signature: Be sure to sign your request. If your request is made by email you may want to use a signature notation such as “/s/” followed by your name.
It should be noted that in New Jersey the time to commence a legal proceeding following the denial of a government record is very short (45 days). Thus, it is advised you consult with an attorney to avoid losing any rights you might have should the school deny your request for important student records.
ATTORNEY ADVERTISING. This document is provided by P. Taylor Legal, PLLC for information purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.