The Family Education Records and Privacy Act (FERPA) outlines who has access to a child’s education records, as well as when they have access. For example, a child’s education records can generally be made available to parents or those who are acting as a guardian for that child and even to the child, if the child is over the age of 18. Those who are over the age of 18 and still attending school are considered “eligible students” under the stipulations.
So what happens when a child is placed in the foster care system? See below for ten important facts regarding FERPA rights for children placed in foster care:
- A biological or legal parent does not automatically lose rights under FERPA when a child is placed in foster care; a mother or father may ask to see a copy of a child’s records for a variety of reasons.
- Parents of children placed in foster care might even ask that a child’s records be amended if there are inaccuracies or other issues that need to be addressed.
- The right to access a child’s education records after a child has been placed in foster care is not absolute. If a child was abused by a parent, for example, that child's location may need to remain undisclosed. FERPA rights may be limited or even denied to keep the child safe.
- There are strict requirements to meet before a school can release education records; a school cannot release them simply because a parent or child welfare representative requests it.
- The party requesting a child’s education records must provide written and informed consent to access these records.
- Furthermore, records may only be released to government or similar agencies via court order. That said, schools may generally release records freely to the Department of Education or for reasons related to a student's application for or receipt of financial aid.
- In some cases, it may be possible to send records to another school if a child is moving to that school or wants to continue his or her education there in the future. This type of transfer must be directly from one school district to the other.
- Emergencies are also considered special circumstances; schools generally have the right to release records if a child is experiencing a health crisis or is otherwise in an emergency situation.
- Regardless of the reason, parents must generally be notified of any release to give them an opportunity to challenge it. (This may not apply if FERPA rights have been limited for child safety reasons, as noted above).
- If a parent’s rights to a child are terminated, there is no longer any right to access a child's records under FERPA, regardless of whether these rights were terminated by a court order or voluntarily by the parent.
To learn more about the laws surrounding the educational interests of foster children, check out this important program. You can also read more about the educational struggles of children in foster care in this informative study.