“Do I have the right to get a pdf copy of my daughter’s IEP?”
That was the question recently asked by one of my clients, "Nicole". I thought about it for a second, then replied, “Sure, Nicole, you have legal right to get digital copies of IEPs.”
But I didn’t sound very convincing. Then I realized I was just guessing. Not what a lawyer is supposed to do.
I went on to explain to Nicole that I wasn’t quite sure where in the law her digital rights rested, but I was certain she must have them. After all, we’re living in the digital age.
I promised Nicole I would get back to her with a reference to the actual law giving her the right to obtain a pdf copy of her daughter’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
I knew that getting pdfs of IEPs was very important to Nicole, because she was on a big push to organize and manage all of her daughter's special needs records by getting as many files as possible into pdf format. That's a great goal for every special needs parent. Wouldn't it be fantastic to have those 10 years worth of IEP binders all digitized into pdfs?
So I did my lawyer thing and started researching. I thought it would be a snap to quickly locate the laws giving parents the right to receive digital copies of their child's educational records.
Not so fast. From IDEA, to FERPA, to FAPE, there’s a dense jungle of laws and regulations we need to hack through to reveal the resting place of your digital records rights. But rest assured, you do have digital rights!
To make a long research story short, I discovered that because of their unique circumstances, special needs parents have the absolute right to request and receive digital copies of their child’s IEP. If schools don’t provide digital IEP copies to special needs parents, they risk being cut off from federal funding.
However, the laws creating your digital rights are not just sitting out there, in plain English, in one spot. Nope, that would be much too simple.
Instead, we need to string together the separate laws, rules and regulations of the IDEA and FERPA, which all being read together make crystal clear that special needs parents have the absolute right to request and receive a digital copy of their child’s IEP.
For purposes of this post, I am going to limit the following information to a very specific set of circumstances: parents who a have a child with disabilities who is under age 18, and there is no court-ordered restriction of parental rights. (After age 18, a whole new set of rules kicks in, worthy of another blog. Coming soon.)
Also, we’re focused here on the right to receive a “digital copy” of your child’s IEP. The law is clear that you must receive a written copy of the IEP and revisions upon request. The law is a little cloudy on your right to receive a pdf copy of the IEP. We’re going to clear the air on that point right now.
Here’s how it all comes together, in bullet-point fashion:
PARENTS HAVE THE ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO REVIEW AND INSPECT THEIR CHILD’S EDUCATION RECORDS.
Schools must provide a student’s parent the opportunity to inspect and review the student’s education records. Authority: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(1) (A) and (B); 34 CFR § 99.10 (a).
SCHOOLS MUST PROVIDE COPIES OF IEPs TO PARENTS
The school must give the parent a copy of the child's IEP at no cost to the parent. Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B)(i).
When an IEP is changed or amended, upon request, a parent must be provided with a revised copy of the IEP with the amendments incorporated. Authority: 34 CFR § 99.10 (d); 34 CFR § 300.613(b)(2).
Schools must provide copies of any education records if circumstances prevent a parent from exercising their right to inspect and review education records at the school. Authority: 34 CFR § 99.10 (d); 34 CFR § 300.613(b)(2).
THE VERY CIRCUMSTANCE OF HAVING A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS EFFECTIVELY PREVENTS PARENTS FROM EXERCISING THEIR RIGHT TO REVIEW AND INSPECT RECORDS AT THE SCHOOL. Authority: Your life.
It would be an absolute undue hardship for you to stay at school for hours to inspect and review your child’s education records. You have a child with special needs at home who needs your care. So you need copies to review at home. (Should go without saying.)
And now, finally, here’s the core law establishing your IEP digital records rights:
EDUCATION RECORDS INCLUDE ELECTRONIC COPIES
Your child’s education records means "any information recorded in any way, including, but not limited to, hand writing, print, computer media, video or audio tape, film, microfilm, and microfiche.” Authority: 34 CFR § 99.3.
Conclusion: Because of your unique circumstances as a special needs parent, schools must provide you with a copy of their computer media (pdf file) of your child’s IEP. Just bring in your flash drive and ask. It’s the law!
P.S.: Here’s a handy summary of your IEP Digital Rights. Just reduce to business card size (3.5x2), print & laminate. Then keep on hand, just in case!