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Mass. Statute on Records Access Found to Violate Federal Law

By Caroline Hendrie — May 24, 2005 1 min read
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A Massachusetts statute that restricts noncustodial parents’ rights to see their children’s school records violates a law governing such access in education programs that receive federal money, the U.S. Department of Education has concluded. Acting on a complaint brought by a divorced father, federal officials have warned state Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll that the 1999 state law conflicts with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Driscoll said last week that he agrees that the state law is overly restrictive and will work with legislators in an effort to amend it.

Among other provisions, the state law makes parents who wish to see the educational records of their children for whom they don’t have custody prove that they haven’t been barred by a court from doing so.

The state statute also automatically disqualifies noncustodial parents from seeing school records if they have been denied visitation rights, are allowed only supervised visits, or have been denied custody based on a threat to the safety of their children or the other parents.

In a May 6 letter to Mr. Driscoll, the director of the Education Department’s family-policy compliance office, LeRoy S. Rooker, said Massachusetts’ statute was laudable “in its desire to protect children and custodial parents.” But he said the law does not square “with the FERPA requirement that parents retain their full rights unless the school has been provided with evidence that these rights have been specifically revoked.”

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