Ask for the Email

Published on November 18, 2010 by Jennifer Laviano

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Whenever parents retain my firm, I ask them to sign a form requesting all of their child's education records be sent to me as their special education lawyer.  It's a standard “FERPA” request…the easiest way to explain FERPA is that it is sort of like the educational version of HIPAA.  Bottom line is that I can not legally access a child's special education records without the parents' permission.

Over the years in my special education law practice in Connecticut, I have modified my FERPA request to account for situations I've encountered in litigation.  So, a few years ago, I added the words “including ALL EMAILS” to my FERPA request.

Boy, what a difference this has made.

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Reading the email between and among the school district staff has provided me with a context that I often didn't get until I was in the middle of a Due Process Hearing.  “Aha!” I can now say, “the reason they were stalling out the evaluation is that the speech pathologist was vocally opposing the need to evaluate,” or “the school district thinks this child's behaviors are only happening at home.”

Or, I can get great ammunition in a case where, as an example, I have the special ed administrator emailing the regular education teacher to tell him that he only needs to show up at the IEP meeting “for a minute to state that the child can't benefit from regular education and leave.”

Sometimes it's more insidious than that, like comments that are mean or sarcastic about the parents.  I've gotten those a lot.

I often think to myself “if this is what they sent me, what hit the shredder?”

At any rate, I have gotten to the point where I strongly believe that requesting copies of all email between and among the school district, and with the parents regarding the student, is a very smart thing to do.

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4 Responses to Ask for the Email

  1. Wendy Moseley
    March 9th, 2011 | 9:48 am

    Is a parent allowed to make the same request? I am at the verge of uncovering possible FAPE issues regarding my 5th grade son’s IEP. I would love to see the emails among his school IEP team.

  2. Jennifer Laviano
    March 13th, 2011 | 3:05 pm

    Yes, Parents can make a request for their child’s educational records directly under both FERPA and the IDEA. Good luck.

  3. susan
    May 25th, 2011 | 7:43 am

    What do you do if a district refuses to give all emails prior to a certain date and says that it will cost them too much money to retrieve them from the system?

  4. Jennifer Laviano
    May 25th, 2011 | 9:31 pm

    Interesting question…at minimum I’d suggest you ask to come and inspect them and then as you find emails that you feel are important, ask for copies of those. Whether a parent is entitled to a free copy of all records, and how often, is not a well settled question, but there is no question you have a right to inspect your child’s educational records under both IDEA and FERPA.

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