All Massachusetts children need to feel safe and be safe at school. This is especially true for children who have suffered from the effects of domestic violence.
Lawfully restricted access to school records can keep abusive parents from undermining the child’s education. Lawful restricted access can keep an abusive parent from finding out:
- where the child and the non-abusive parent live, and,
- where the non-abusive parent works.
Access to school records can only be restricted by court order. Parents, even “non-custodial” parents, are legally entitled to access to school records unless a court order specifically says that they are not.
Being a “non-custodial” parent does not mean that the parent is a bad parent.
School officials, administrators, teachers, and other staff can make schools safe for all children, including children affected by domestic violence, and their non-abusive parents. They can:
- Learn about whether and how the school is supposed to provide school records access for individual parents.
- Work with parents to understand the effect of each order on parental access to school records.
- Adopt strategies to insure compliance with Massachusetts’ school records access law.
Who can get a child’s school records?
- parent or legal guardian,
- an eligible student,
- a student who is 14 years old or
- a student who has entered the ninth (9th) grade or
- an agency legally authorized to act on behalf of the student in place of or in conjunction with the father, mother, or legal guardian. Like the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Youth Services (DYS).
Can both parents get their child’s school records?
Generally, yes. Both parents can usually have access to their child’s school records. Even non-custodial parents usually have access to these records.
When is a parent not allowed to see or get copies of their child’s school records?
Certain abusive “non-custodial” parents are not allowed to see or get copies of their children’s school records. A non-custodial parent is not allowed access to the records if:
- their access to the child is prohibited by a abuse protection order,
- they are denied visitation by a court order,
- they are denied “legal custody” based on a threat to the safety of the child, or
- by court order are only allowed to have supervised visitation, based on a threat to the safety of the child, and the threat is specifically noted in the custody or supervised visitation order; or
- there is a Probate and Family Court order which specifically prohibits distribution of the student records to the parent.
What is a “non-custodial” parent?
A “non-custodial” parent includes:
- any parent who by court order does not have physical custody. This includes parents who by court order do not reside with or supervise the student, even for short periods of time.
- the father of a child born to parents who are not married to each other, unless a court order says otherwise or unless the child lives with the father.
When married parents separate and there is no court order about custody, neither parent is “non-custodial.”
What does it mean that a parent has “legal” custody?
A parent who has “legal” custody has the right and responsibility to make the major decisions about the child’s welfare, including:
- medical care,
- moral and
- religious development.
“Sole” legal custody is where one parent has the right and responsibility to make these major decisions.
“Shared” legal custody is where both parents have the right and responsibility to make these major decisions.
What is a “custodial” parent?
For the purposes of school records, a “custodial” parent is a parent with whom the child lives.
How does a parent get a copy of their child’s school records?
All parents must submit a written request to the school principal.
Does it make a difference whether the parent requesting the records is a custodial parent or a non-custodial parent?
Yes. There is no waiting period for custodial parents. Custodial parents are can get school records “as soon as practicable and within ten days after the initial request.” If you are a custodial parent, it is important to be sure that school officials know that the child lives with you. For non-custodial parents there is a 21 day waiting period after the school notifies the custodial parent of the request.
Do you have to prove to the school that you are a custodial parent to get the records “within ten days”?
Do non-custodial parents have to prove to the school that they are eligible to receive school records?
Will the school automatically give a copy of the student records when asked by a parent?
No. The school must:
- First review the student’s record for any documents limiting or restricting parental access to the student’s records or information which have been provided to the school or school district.
- then, immediately notify a custodial parent of a request for school records made by a non-custodial parent.
If the non-custodial parent requests the records, and there are no documents in the file limiting access, the school will provide the material after a waiting period.
Are schools required to notify custodial parents that:
- a non-custodial parent has requested the records and
- tell them about the waiting period and
- about what else will happen?
The school must notify the custodial parent that a request has been made. The school must then wait 21 days before giving the records to a non-custodial parent who has requested the school records. After a non-custodial parent requests the records, the school must immediately notify the custodial parent by certified and first class mail, in the custodial parent’s primary language and in English of the request. The notice must inform the custodial parent that the school records information will be provided to the requesting parent after twenty-one (21) days unless the custodial parent provides the principal of the school with documentation of any court order which prohibits contact with the child, or prohibits the distribution of the school records or if there is a temporary or permanent order issued to provide protection to the child in the custodial parent’s custody from abuse by the requesting parent unless the protective order or any subsequent order modifies the protective order and specifically allows access to the school records information.
If the custodial parent does not provide the school with documentation that the non-custodial parent is not eligible for access to the school records, the school will provide the non-custodial parent with the records.
If the custodial parent does provide the school within 21 days documentation that the non-custodial parent is not eligible for access to the school records, the school must not provide the non-custodial parent with the records.
What can you do if you receive a notice that the non-custodial parent has requested the records, and you do not want the non-custodial parent to have access to the records?
Custodial parents who do not want the non-custodial parent to have access to the school records must, within the 21 day waiting period, give the principal:
- documentation of any court order which prohibits or restricts contact with the child,
- prohibits distribution of school record information, or
- which is an order issued to protect the child from abuse by the non-custodial parent requesting the records.
For the documentation to be effective in keeping the school from distributing the records, the orders should contain one or more of the provisions described in Question 3.
How can I make sure that a non-custodial parent, who is not eligible to receive school records, does not get the school records.
If there is a current order that has one or more of the provisions listed in Question 3, give a copy to the principal. Also, you can write a letter to the principal saying that you are the custodial parent and that if the non-custodial parent asks for the child’s school records, the school is to notify you. Ask the school to put this letter into the child’s records.
If a court order prohibits a non-custodial parent’s access to school records, is that parent automatically prohibited from coming to the school or attending meetings with teachers?
The law is not clear on this issue. If you are concerned about risks of abuse to yourself or your child or disruptive interference with your child’s education if the non-custodial parent comes to the school or attends teacher meetings, tell the school your concerns.
Give the school any court order that prohibits access to the records. In circumstances like this, you can request the school not to permit the other parent to meet with school personnel, come to meetings, or come to the school. Everyone should remember that communications among teachers, staff, and parents are likely to include information that is contained in the student’s record, and that where one of the parents is ineligible to have access to that information the wisest course is not to permit ineligible parents to be involved in these conversations.
Parents who are eligible to receive school record information are not automatically allowed to participate in school proceedings about which they have received notice.
Non-custodial parents who are eligible to receive school record information are not automatically authorized to participate in school proceedings and decisions unless there is a custody order that says they are. Thus a non-custodial parent who does not have shared or sole “legal” custody is not authorized to participate in these proceedings and decisions. What is the “student record”?
The student record is:
- the transcript, and
- the temporary record, including all
- information recording and
- computer tapes,
- microfiche, or
- any other materials concerning a student that is organized on the basis of the student’s name.
The temporary record consists of all information in the student record which is not contained in the transcript and is important to the educational process.
What can you do if you have been in an abusive relationship and have fled your abusers to prevent the abuser from finding you through information in the school records?
The law requires that custodial parents’ electronic and postal residential and work addresses and telephone information be removed from school records when they are released to a non-custodial parent. One precaution you can take is to review the file with school personnel to be sure that the record has no address or telephone information.
Does the law require school to remove residential and work address and telephone information before releasing school records to a non-custodial parent whether or not there has been abuse or domestic violence?
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or paternity case, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.