School District personnel in New Jersey have the mistaken belief that they can deny parents of a child who was the target of school bullying the right to review the records of the school’s investigation, or the discipline the school imposed on the bullying student. School personnel believe that, because disciplinary records are school records protected under the Family Education Records Protection Act, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232(g) (“FERPA”), they cannot release such records without the permission of the bullying student’s family. This is error.
FERPA does protect records from disclosure, but it also provides a family with the absolute right to review any school record that is “directly related to” their child. The United States Office of Civil Rights states, therefore, that a child who is harrassed by another student has the stautory right under FERPA to review the records that establish what the District actually did in response to the harrassment, including what disciplne may have been handed out to the offending student. OCR, Dear Colleague Letter, 13 (Apr. 4, 2011).
Even if that information is retained in the other student’s records, the parent of the targeted child has the right to that information. New Jersey state law also provides such access into portions of another student’s record to the extent it has information about your child. N.J.A.C. 6A:32-7.1.
This does not mean that you can obtain the other student’s entire record, or any information involving his or her behavior toward other students. But you are entitled to see the limited portion of the other student’s record that details the specific discipline for his or her behavior toward your child, because that portion of the other student’s record “directly relates” to your child.
Obtaining this information can often be critical. Absent such information, the targeted child may be afraid to return to school, or the parents may be afraid to send the child back into a possibly hostile environment. Indeed, the child’s fear, and/or her perception that the administration is not fully supportive, might be the cause of additional social-emotional problems for the child. If the targeted child misses multiple days of school, the District may even initiate truancy proceedings — further victimizing the already traumatized child.
As the U.S. Office of Civil Rights reasons: the targeted child has the right to make an informed choice as to whether and under what conditions she will return to the school. OCR, Revised Sexual Harrassment Preamble (Jan. 19, 2001)(addressing FERPA).
Further, you may also need these records if your school district did not agree that bullying occured, or otherwise decided not to take action, so that you can mount an effective and meaningful challenge in an appeal to the School Board.
Bullying and harrassment can cause very serious and long lasting harm. I have been assisting students with respect to school related harrassment for more than a decade. If your child is involved in school related bullying or harrassment, and you are not satisifed with your District’s response, contact this office for forceful assistance.