March 25, 2002
HANDLING OF CONFIDENTIAL STUDENT RECORDS
By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst
You asked several specific questions about how schools and school districts are required to handle confidential student records, especially medical and other types of records relating to an evaluation and individualized program for a special education student.
Handling and disclosure of, and access to, confidential student records is governed by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and, if the student is eligible for special education and related services, by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and by their accompanying regulations. In addition, the Connecticut State Library's public records administrator establishes rules of the disposition of all records maintained by public agencies in the state, including educational records maintain by Connecticut public schools. The state rules specify how long school districts must retain various types of records. The state rules explicitly state that federal requirements for disposing of educational records take precedence.
Your questions and the answers are listed individually below. For your further information, we enclose copies of relevant parts of the federal FERPA and IDEA regulations as well as a plain language summary of the FERPA requirements, an excerpt concerning student records from A Parent's Guide to Special Education in Connecticut, published by the State Department of Education, and a copy of the Connecticut public records administrator's directive and records retention schedule for each kind of educational record.
How are confidential records (medical, psychological information, and evaluations) kept in public schools in Connecticut? What does the State Department of Education (SDE) require? Do local school districts have different requirements?
As noted above, requirements for maintaining confidential educational records are set by federal law. IDEA regulations require school districts to:
1. protect the confidentiality of personally identifiable information at the collection, storage, disclosure, and destruction stages;
2. designate one agency official as responsible for ensuring confidentiality of personally identifiable information;
3. train everyone who collects personally identifiable information on the state's policies and procedures for assuring confidentiality; and
4. maintain for public inspection a current list of names and positions of the employees within the district who may have access to personally identifiable information. (34 CFR 300. 572)
State policies and procedures mirror the federal requirements.
Who is accountable if records are misplaced? Is it necessary for the school to notify parents if records are misplaced?
The issue of what happens when records are misplaced is not specifically addressed in any of the regulations. As noted above, the IDEA requires each agency to designate one official who is responsible for ensuring confidentiality.
Access to records is allowed for "legitimate educational interests. " How is this defined?
Under FERPA, a school district can disclose personally identifiable information about a student, without the parent's consent, to other school officials within the agency or institution whom the agency has determined to have "legitimate educational interests. " (34 CFR 99. 31) The regulations do not define the term. But the regulations require that, for each such disclosure, the agency record the legitimate interests the parties had in asking for, or receiving, the information.
Can a parent indicate that he wants only a portion of the record shared with an independent evaluator or must the entire record be shown?
IDEA regulations do not expressly address this question. But they require that, to be considered valid consent, (1) the parent must understand and agree in writing to the carrying out of the activity; (2) the consent must describe the activity; and (3) the consent form must list all the records that will be released and to whom. They also allow the parent to revoke consent at any time but specify that the revocation is not retroactive, that is, it does not negate an action taken before revocation. (34 CFR 300. 500(b))
When the consent form is signed, what does it allow the school to do?
As noted above, the consent form must describe the action the school intends to take. Thus, the school can do whatever the parent has consented to or that it is allowed to do without the parent's consent.