To continue and expand on our discussion of FERPA, I called the Department of Education for some clarification. The number I used was 800-872-5327 (800-USA-LEARN). I reached a courteous and knowledgeable woman who had some great answers to my questions. I didn’t tape it, nor did I get her permission to quote her, so the replies are my paraphrasing based on my notes of our conversation. If you have questions, I encourage you to call DOE. Be prepared for the post call survey though, which will come a few days later. It freaked me out when a recorded voice said “This is the Department of Education…”

Anyway, my questions mainly revolved around what constitutes an educational record. The first test, per DOE, is whether or not it is maintained. That means emails are a gray area. If the county maintains an email history as part of its usual operations, any emails referencing your child will be part of his educational record and therefore accessible to you upon request. Another tidbit she mentioned was that the school cannot destroy records after you request them, so if they delete emails at any time after you request them they have violated FERPA.

I also asked specifically about notes or journals taken by team members. The DOE rep said personal observations at a meeting are not covered, but transcripts are. That means if you are not recording your session but a team member is taking their own transcription then the parents are entitled to a copy.

Additionally I asked about school disciplinary records and incident reports, which are both yes. However, incident reports require either the permission of the other person involved (ie staff member or parent of another child) or redaction of that individuals personal information. Our school system has always opted for the redacted copy.

I also asked specifically about school systems referring to children by their initials. The DOE rep said that actually is done to protect information regarding children, as initials are harder to trace back to names if their computer system or electronic records are compromised. She did state, however, that an educational record is any record that refers to your child’s education by name or initial. My solution to that quandary was to make sure I specified “including educational records that use initials rather full names.” That was sufficient for my last FERPA request.

The bottom line is that if you need help interpreting these rules the DOE will give you good information. They won’t replace the advice of an attorney, but they might be able to help you figure out which direction to proceed if things get ugly.

You can read the first part of this series at