California Privacy of School Records Laws

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The federal government sets the nationwide standard for privacy of school records in the Family Educational Records Protection Act, or FERPA. The primary purpose of FERPA is to guarantee parents access to school records of their minor children and to prohibit access in many other cases without parental consent. Although some states have passed laws that expand the FERPA protections, California has not. The state statutes reiterate the federal protections and give the government access to some types of sensitive student data.

Privacy of School Records

Most students spend at least 13 years in school, starting in kindergarten. During that time, the school generates grades, test scores and other related records. But academic performance records are not the only student data generated during a child's passage through the school system. If a child gets into trouble for his behavior, he might have records of discipline. There might be therapy and counseling records, as well as health records from school health nurses.

All of this information is meant to assist the student and her family, as well as the school system, and is not intended for public release in most cases.

Family Educational Records Protection Act

The federal standards regarding privacy of school records are set out in the Family Educational Records Protection Act. FERPA applies to schools and school districts that receive federal funding. The main purpose of FERPA is to give parents and guardians access to student records and prevent most other uses of the information.

What are a parent's rights under FERPA? While the child is under 18, a parent or guardian has the right to:

  • Review the student's school files.
  • Ask for correction of inaccurate information.
  • Give or withhold consent for release of the records to others.

Children hold these rights with their parents and guardians while they are under 18 years old. When they turn 18, the rights are transferred to the students and they hold them exclusively.

Read More: California Law: Employee Protection Act

School Responsibilities Under the Act

The Department of Education can withhold federal funding from schools that do not grant access to a student's parents or guardians. But granting access is not the school's only responsibility. Schools must also notify parents and students of these rights and the procedures to review and correct records.

The schools must also tell parents and students that the records will not be disclosed without their consent. Certain exceptions built into the law include the release of:

  • Transcripts when a student changes schools.
  • Some information anonymously to researchers studying educational techniques.
  • Relevant information to government officials auditing public assistance programs.
  • Some information in the course of normal business.

California School Privacy Law Right to Access

The federal law applies to all schools nationwide, but the state of California has also passed laws that reiterate these rights. They are found in the Education Code Sections 49060 and following. For example, EC Section 49069 provides that parents of currently enrolled or former pupils have an absolute right to access to any and all pupil records related to their children that are maintained by school districts or private schools.

California School Privacy Law: Other Provisions

Additional statutes set out the procedures for schools to provide access. The California law allows the parent or guardian to make a written request to correct or remove any information recorded in the written records concerning his child if the information is:

  • Not accurate.
  • An unsubstantiated personal conclusion.
  • A conclusion outside of the observer’s area of competence.
  • Not based on the personal observation of a named person.
  • Misleading.
  • In violation of the privacy or other rights of the pupil.

The parent may also provide a response to any statement in the record about disciplinary action taken regarding the child.

Under California law, the public can get directory information about a student, unless the parent or guardian objects to its release. This information includes data like the student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, and major field of study.