Many parents aren't familiar with the federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) until it impacts them. FERPA requires schools and educational agencies that receive funding from the Department of Education (DOE) to allow parents to see their children's records. This applies to public schools. However, parochial and other private schools are generally exempt from FERPA because they usually don't receive any federal funding.

What Records Are Covered Under FERPA?

The law applies to both custodial and non-custodial parents. FERPA designates that parents have the right to review education records that pertain directly to their child. This usually doesn't include notices of parent-teacher meetings, school calendars or information about extra-curricular activities. These education records must be provided within 45 days of a parent's request for them.

Under FERPA, parents have other rights regarding these records. For example, they can ask to have them changed or updated. Further, their consent may be required before a school or agency can disclose identifying information about a child to someone else.

When FERPA May Not Apply

There are situations in which a parent may be prohibited by state and/or federal law from seeing their children's school records. For example, if there's a court order forbidding a parent from seeing a child's records, schools and agencies cannot legally allow it. When parents are prohibited from directing or providing any sort of daily care for a child, they may be forbidden under state law from accessing their education records.

Even if your co-parent has sole physical and legal custody of your children, you may still be able to stay informed about how they are doing in school, including what grades they're getting, which classes they're taking and any disciplinary actions have been taken against them. If you're having difficulty getting access to these records, you should consult your family law attorney. He or she knows the laws of your state and will be able to help you file a complaint with the DOE or take other steps to seek information about your children that state and federal law entitles you to have.