These are strange times.  Schools have never closed like this before.  Thankfully we have technology to help bridge the learning gap.

As usual, parents of kids with special needs have an extra challenge.  While e-learning is being offered to students in general ed, many districts and schools are using FERPA a way to deny students receiving special education supports and services on-line.  This is extremely flawed, and here is how you can respond.

What is FERPA?

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, otherwise known as “FERPA, generally prohibits the improper disclosure of personally identifiable information derived from education records.”   While not only protecting privacy of individual student records, FERPA also spells out the rights that the individual has to request those records.  This is done with an eye to giving students a way to correct any inaccuracies about grades or testing that might be in the educational record.

The big issue that many schools are concerned with now is FERPA’s provision that “… a school may not generally disclose personally identifiable information from an eligible student’s education records to a third party unless the eligible student has provided written consent.”  And this is where schools make it needlessly difficult on parents with their poor understanding of FERPA.  All they have to do to be in compliance with FERPA is obtain signed consent from the other parents of the students participating in the special ed group e-learning.    That’s it.

Here is the statement from Zoom, the company being most used for e-learning interactions, about their FERPA compliance.

Requirements for Schools to provide equal access to learning through accommodations

504 requires that if the school is providing anything to general ed students, they must provide needed supports so that students with disabilities also have that access.  If your student has an IEP, he (or she) is also are under the protection of 504.  Remember that list of accommodations that you go through in your IEP (or in Tx ARD) meeting?  That list comes from the 504 requirements and guidelines.  Applying this to the current situation: if the school is providing e-learning to general ed students, they MUST also provide some kind of e-learning to students with an IEP.  Period.

Steps to take

If you are being told that your child cannot have any e-learning during this time because of FERPA regulations respond in this way:

  1. Ask them what platform they are using
  2. Find the platform’s FERPA statement if it is a different platform than Zoom.
  3. Reply with an email to the teacher, and cc: the main campus special ed contact (diagnostician, special ed chair, designated teacher, etc.) and the principal with the following:

Dear _______ (name of special ed teacher):
I so appreciate your concern about maintaining my child’s rights during this time of school closings and e-learning.  However, when I reviewed the FERPA statutes, I saw that I can provide consent for this particular situation.  So I would like the school to develop a consent form that will allow my child to participate in a special education group e-learning exchange with the teacher.  I understand that not every parent will feel comfortable signing consent.  However, after reviewing  _____ (name of the on-line platform)’s FERPA statement, I am confident that my child’s privacy will be adequately protected during e-learning sessions.

To not offer e-learning and support to my child during this time is a violation of her/his rights under 504.

I look forward to receiving the permission form as quickly as possible to allow the e-learning to proceed.  Thank you,

I look forward to hearing how this works for people.

Like this?  Check out more information on my website  or my on-line parent empowerment course for parents needing to learn how to advocate for their child in special education.  The Speak Up for Your Child Bootcamp.