Massachusetts law governs how schools must keep student records. It also regulates how schools should respond to parent or student questions about records. If you want to read the actual regulations about school records, you can find them at 603 Code of Massachusetts Regulations, Chapter 23.00. They are available online at the Massachusetts state law library web page here.
There are also federal rules about student records. Some of them are part of what is called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA"). FERPA is very similar to the Massachusetts rules. If you would like to read the federal rules about student records, you can find them at 34 Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 99.00. The federal regulations are also available on the web here.
A student record should have two parts:
1) the transcript and
2) the temporary record.
The transcript includes the name, birth date, address, and phone number of the student; contact information for the student's parent or guardian; and the course titles, grades received, and credits and grades completed. (603 C.M.R. 23.02)
The temporary record is made up of all other information, in any form, that the school keeps about the student. The school cannot keep just any information in the record. Information kept in the record has to be "important to the educational process." Important information includes evaluations of the student by teachers or other staff, standardized test results, class rank, and information about extra-curricular activities in which the student participates. (603 C.M.R. 23.02)
While the student is in school, the school must look at the temporary record from time to time to make sure that everything in it is correct, up to date, and "important to the educational process." The school should notify the student and parent if information is going to be destroyed in this process, and they should be allowed to receive the information prior to it being destroyed. (603 C.M.R. 23.06(2)).
Informal notes kept by teachers are not usually part of the record. For example, if a teacher keeps notes about a student's progress for the purpose of helping her remember what the student has done, these notes are not part of the record. But, if a child's teacher shares the notes with other staff, like in a TEAM meeting, the notes are part of the record. A student's homework, quizzes, and/or academic papers are not considered part of the student record.
Students who are over fourteen and the student's custodial parent or guardian can see the student's entire school record, regardless of the physical location of the record. The school must show the person the entire record within ten days of the person's request. (603 C.M.R. 23.07(2)). It is best to make your request in writing. Any student, regardless of their age should be given a copy of their transcript upon request.
There are special rules that non-custodial parents must follow to obtain a copy of their child's records these can be found at the website listed above at 603 C.M.R. 23.07(5). In addition, in certain instances, schools can release information to other agencies or personnel of the state and federal government about individual students. 603 C.M.R. 23.07(5).
If you are the custodial parent or guardian of the child, the school must make a copy of the record if you request it. The school is allowed to charge a reasonable fee for the cost of copies, however, the school cannot charge a fee if it would mean that you could not exercise your right to inspect and review the records. (603 C.M.R. 23.07(2)(a))
Schools must keep the transcript for at least 60 years after the student graduates, or leaves the school system. (603 C.M.R. 23.06(1)). The temporary record must be destroyed no later than 7 years after the student graduates or leaves the school system. (603 C.M.R. 23.06(3))
You can always add something to the record that explains or offers your side of a story. For example, if you disagree with the results of a school disciplinary hearing, you could place a letter or statement in the record explaining why you disagree with the result. (603 C.M.R. 23.08(1))
FERPA says that a statement that is added to a student record must be kept with the material it relates to. Whenever someone asks to see the record, or the record is released, your statement must be included with the record. (34 C.F.R. 99.21(c)(1-2))
If you think that adding a statement is not enough, you can ask for an item to be changed or removed from the record. (603 C.M.R. 23.08(2)(a)). But the school will not consider removing information put there by an Evaluation Team until after an IEP is accepted, or the special education appeals process is complete. (603 C.M.R. 23.08(2))
Make your request in writing to the principal or another person chosen by the principal, or in a face to face meeting. In your letter, explain what part of the record you disagree with and why. Tell the principal what you would like to have removed, or what you want to add. (603 C.M.R. 23.08(a))
The principal, or school staff assigned by the principal, must respond to your request within a week. The school's response must be in writing. It must explain the reasons for the decision. If the principal agrees to the change, she must make sure that it is made promptly. (603 C.M.R. 23.08(b))
If the school refuses to make the changes you asked for and you are not satisfied with the reasons for the refusal, you can appeal the decision. (603 C.M.R. 23.09(1)) Your appeal should be to the superintendent of schools. Your appeal must be in writing. Explain in your letter why you disagree with the school's reasons, and what you would like the superintendent to do for you.
The superintendent, or someone designated by her, must respond to your request within two weeks. The response must be in writing. It must explain The written response must explain the reason for the decision. (603 C.M.R. 23.09(2)). If the decision is in your favor, the decision must go into effect promptly.
If the superintendent refuses to make the changes you have asked for, your next option is to write to the chairperson of the school committee to request a "fair hearing." (603 C.M.R. 23.09(3))
The school committee must hold a fair hearing on your request within four weeks of receiving your letter. (603 C.M.R. 23.09(4))
The school must convince the school committee that its reasons for refusing to honor your request are adequate. (603 C.M.R. 23.09(4)(a-c)) At the hearing, both you and the school will have a chance to explain your side of the issue. You can do this by asking people who have information that supports your position to come to the hearing as witnesses for you. If the school has witnesses at the hearing, you have a right to ask them questions. You can also present other evidence that supports your position, including other records, letters of support, or other items.
You have the right to bring an attorney, or another advocate, to represent you at the hearing. You also have a right to question witnesses, including witnesses from the school, present other evidence, and have the hearing tape recorded.
The school committee must make a write a decision about the issue. You must receive the decision within two weeks of the hearing. (603 C.M.R. 23.09(4)(b)). If you still disagree with the decision, you can go to court to challenge it.
If you think that a school not followed the state rules about student records, you may ask the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) to review the school's actions. You can contact them at:
Massachusetts Department of Education
350 Main Street
Malden, MA 01248-5023
If you think that the school has violated the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA"), you can send a complaint to:
Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202-4605
You must send in your FERPA complaint within 180 days of the time that you think the school violated the rules. (34 C.F.R. 99.64(c))
The complaint must be in writing. It should include specific details about what you asked the school to do, and the school's response. (34 C.F.R. 99.64(a))
If your letter shows that the school may have violated the rules, the Office will investigate further. (34 C.F.R. 99.64(b))