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Hollis Brookline Schools and FERPA

by webmaster last modified 2004-05-01 05:45 PM

The Hollis Brookline school district apparently finds it difficult to comply with the intent of FERPA legislation that parents be provided "effective annual notification" of their rights under the law.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act provides parents (and students of post-secondary institutions) with important rights regarding school records.

For more extensive information on FERPA, click here.

FERPA applies to any school that receives funds from the US Dept. of Education. Since the Hollis Brookline school district (SAU #41) currently receives such funds, it is subject to FERPA.

One requirement of FERPA is that parents be notified annually of their rights under the law: "Each educational agency or institution shall annually notify parents of students currently in attendance, or eligible students currently in attendance, of their rights under the Act and this part." A model notification has been provided by the Dept. of Education. As described here. , "the actual means of notification (e.g. a special letter, a newsletter article, a PTA or PTO bulletin, or inclusion in a student handbook) is the decision of each school or district."

In early 2002, we first became aware of FERPA through research on the Internet. At that time, our children had been in the Hollis Brookline school district for four years, yet we had never seen a FERPA notification and were completely unaware of our rights with regard to the school records of our children. We spoke with a number of other parents in the district, and not one had ever seen a FERPA notification.

On April 2, 2002, we sent a letter to the Superintendent asking what the district's policy was regarding annual FERPA notification, and requesting a reply within one week.

The April 19, 2002 issue of the Hollis Brookline Journal contained a FERPA notification in small print, barely legible, on the next-to-last page. While this may have complied with the letter of the law regarding the annual notification, it was clearly done in a way that would result in as few parents as possible actually being notified of their rights. As first enacted, FERPA required schools to inform parents and eligible students of their rights. The 1994 IASA (Improving America's Schools Act) amendments changed the term to "effectively informs" to ensure that the notification is performed in a way that ensures that parents and students actually receive notice.

The American Association of School Administrators web site contains an article that says of FERPA notification:

"Public notice is all that is required. It can be done through a newsletter, a local newspaper or the student handbook. In practice, however, many school districts send parents individual notice of these rights."

In May 2002, a response dated "April 12" but postmarked "May 1" was received from the Superintendent. The letter states that the district "annually notifies parents of their rights by publishing procedural guidelines in the Hollis Brookliine Journal."

You can draw your own conclusions regarding the coincidence of the "annual" FERPA notification being published in the newspaper approximately two weeks after we inquired about the district's policy.

We've spoken with parents recently and, not surprisingly, not one has seen a FERPA notification yet this year.

We hope that the school district understands that it serves the parents and taxpayers of the district, and that the right thing to do is to not just comply with the letter of the law when asked to but to comply with the intent of the law to provide effective notification to parents, and to do so of its own volition. We have written to the FPCO and encouraged them in the future to require that the FERPA notification be "direct" and occur "at the beginning of the school year", as is now the case for the PPRA.

The annual FERPA notification could be done conveniently and effectively as part of a student handbook (as done here ) and should be distributed at the beginning of the school year so that the information is available for parents who might need it when they need it.

If this annual FERPA notification continues to be an issue, we encourage parents to file a complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office for "non-notification of rights." Print out this form , complete it and mail it to the Family Policy Compliance Office.

In any case, don't wait for the school to notify you--learn more about your rights under FERPA now.

Last updated January 2003

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