Sticker shock

A Colorado mom asked for records about her son. The school district billed her $567.

Connie Sack was stunned when she received two invoices from the Keenesburg school district after asking to inspect records regarding her 16-year-old son, Logan.

The fee for research and retrieval: $438. The fee for copies: $129. Total charges: $567.

“Four hundred dollars is basically the budget we have for his school clothes and supplies every year,” Sack said. “To pay that just to view his education records seems ridiculous.”

Sack made the request under the Family Rights Education and Privacy Act (FERPA). The federal law protects the privacy of students’ education records but also affords parents and students the right to access those records.

Under the law, schools must let parents and students inspect education records within 45 days of a request and “may not charge for search and retrieval of information from education records,” according to a statement provided by Dorie Turner Nolt, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education.

Logan Sack
Logan Sack

A school is not obliged to provide copies unless “circumstances effectively prevent a parent from exercising his or her right to inspect and review education records,” such as if a parent lived far away from the school. But if copies are provided, the fee must not be “prohibitive.”

The invoices from Weld County School District Re-3J in Keenesburg break down like this: The first hour of research and retrieval was free but another 14.6 hours were billed at $30 per hour. The district charged 25 cents per page for 516 copies.

The charges are in line with those authorized in the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). But Sack made the request under FERPA, not CORA.

CORA’s research-and-retrieval charges don’t apply because a parent’s entitlement to inspect the records arises under the federal statute, not the state statute, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C.

“They definitely don’t get to do that,” he said. “…I would absolutely push back on that one.”

Meleia Monsey, executive area administrative specialist for the Keenesburg school district, acknowledged that FERPA allows parents to view their students’ education records at no charge. But she makes a distinction between records kept in a student’s cumulative file – such as report cards, transcripts, test scores and Individualized Education Programs – and other records such as emails that concern a student.

She said a parent is welcome anytime to view his or her child’s cumulative file at a school, but records such as emails must be reviewed and redacted to protect the privacy of other students who are named. “Those are not considered part of the student’s educational record,” Monsey said, and therefore are subject to research-and-retrieval charges outlined in a school district policy.

LoMonte disputes that interpretation. “Neither the FERPA statute nor regulation contemplates any fee for search, retrieval or redaction, and charging for those ‘services’ goes against the intent of FERPA to make those records freely available,” he wrote in an email to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

The U.S. Department of Education defines “education records” to mean records “directly related to a student” which are maintained by or for a school. What that means exactly never has been conclusively determined, according to LoMonte, but “it has generally been the position of schools that ‘directly related’ includes any record in which a student is named or identifiable.”

A class attendance sheet, for example, is not a record of any particular student and will not appear in any particular student’s file in the school office. “Nonetheless,” LoMonte wrote, “the school undoubtedly would take the position that an attendance sheet is a FERPA record if a requester sought access to it.

“Once something is a FERPA record for privacy, it must necessarily be a FERPA record for disclosure.”

Sack said she used a nonprofit’s template to make a broad request under FERPA for Logan’s records, and the school district never gave her the opportunity to narrow the request to make it less expensive. “But now that I know there are 516 pages on my son, I need to see what’s in that file.”

Sack originally asked to inspect the records for several reasons, she said, which include helping Logan challenge a school committee’s decision to reject his application for National Honor Society admission. Logan, who recently finished his sophomore year at Weld Central High School, runs his own technology company and umpires baseball games.

“One thing he wants to do is send part of his educational records to the national level of NHS,” Sack said.

The CFOIC asked spokespersons for the Jefferson County, Denver and Cherry Creek school districts if they had charged parents to research, retrieve and redact student records. Each said they had not done so.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.