Education Law

Does My Child Have a "Permanent" School Record?

Most of us remember hearing one of our grade school or high school teachers say something like, "This is going on your permanent record!" You may have thought about it back then, but it's something easily forgotten about. Now that you're a parent, you may be wondering if your child has a "permanent" school record.

Yes, she does. And odds are, yours is still around, too.

What Is It?

Practically everything about permanent student records is controlled by the laws of the state where the school is located. These laws are probably different in some ways from state to state, so be certain to check the laws in your area for specific details. Nonetheless, there are some things in common for most permanent school records.

What's in the Record?

You can expect to see some or all of these things in a permanent record:

  • Basic information for identifying the student, such as her name, address and birth date, and also the names and addresses of her parents or legal guardians
  • Academic records or "transcripts," including grades, classes or courses taken and completed, class rank, date and age the student advanced to the next grade or graduated, and scores on standardized tests, such as placement tests, ACT/SAT scores, and college entrance exams
  • Attendance record
  • Any accident reports or incidents or any health-related information on record, such as medication administered at school and/or with the help of a school nurse, like insulin or other long-term medications
  • Results of any intelligence, aptitude, and psychological and personality tests the student took while at the school
  • Teacher evaluations of the student's performance or abilities
  • Disciplinary actions taken against the student, such as suspensions or expulsions, and the reasons for the actions taken, such as cheating, destroying school property and fighting with students or staff
  • Awards and honors earned by the student
  • The student's participation in school activities, such as sports, student government, etc.
  • A record of who was given access to the permanent record and when

As you can see, your permanent record is a lot like a resume; it gives quick and easy access to your highlights (and any lowlights) of the time spent at the school.

Who Can Look at a Record?

Generally, you can look at, copy, or ask for a copy of a student's permanent record if:

  • You're the student
  • You're the student's parent or legal guardian. In many states, like Illinois, in the case of divorced parents, the non-custodial parent has just as much right to see her child's record as the custodial parent
  • The student - or his parent, if he's under 18 years old - gives you permission to look at or request a copy of the record
  • You're a local, state, or federal law enforcement agent and you convince the school you have a good reason to see the record
  • You're the principal or other official in charge of records at a school the student is transferring

As a general rule, any request for your school record must be in writing. And, in most instances, the school will notify the parents - or the student if he's over 18 years old - when there's been a request for the record.

When Are They Destroyed?

How long your record is stored varies a great deal from state to state. Some states, like California use terms like "perpetually" or "indefinitely," meaning, of course, your records are supposed to be kept forever. Other states require schools to keep the record for a specific number of years. In Illinois, for example, your permanent record will be kept for 60 years.

The state laws usually require the schools to store the records safely to make sure no one can access them without authorization and they're not in danger of being destroyed by water or fire. This means records like yours and mine that are on paper may be in office or warehouse along with thousands of other records. Most records today, however, are probably kept on computers somewhere in the school or with the school district.

In states like Illinois where the records eventually get destroyed, it's usually done by school officials, and they're likely shredded or burned.

Getting a Record

If you want a permanent record - either yours or your child's - the first place to start is at the school. Officials there can tell you if the record is at the school and how long it will take for you to get a copy of it. Most likely the school will have a short form for you to fill out and sign when requesting the record. You may be charged a small fee to cover the costs of retrieving and copying the record, too.

If you disagree with something in the record, some states give you the power to challenge it. Again, Illinois is a good example. Parents can challenge any information in the record - except for the student's grades or history of suspensions or expulsions - if the student is transferring to another school. Also, parents may write an explanation about the disputed information and have that statement made a part of the permanent record.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can a school be held responsible if I become a victim of identity theft after my school record is stolen?
  • Can a school refuse to take my child as a transfer student if her old school doesn't send her record to the new school?
  • Is there any way to have references to disciplinary actions removed from my child's permanent record?

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