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.
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.