Education laws encompass the right to a free and appropriate public education as well as issues involving:

An attorney who practices education law may focus on or be skilled in several of these legal areas.

What Laws Apply to the Education System?

Education laws encompass issues in the education system which pertain to:

  • Students;
  • Parents;
  • Teachers;
  • Schools; and
  • School districts.

Laws which provide protections for education include:

  • Title IX: Title IX is a federal law that protects against gender discrimination in public schools. Title IX is commonly associated with equality in athletics programs, but also applies to academic opportunities as well;
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): IDEA ensures that a child with learning disabilities has access to a public education which is appropriate to the individual child’s educational goals and needs;
  • No Child Left Behind Act: The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) holds schools and school districts accountable in order to ensure that students in public schools perform at their grade level. NCLB also ensures that students attend safe schools, that teachers are qualified for the subjects they teach, and that student and school performance is measured through yearly standardized testing;
  • United States Constitution: Students at public schools must be afforded certain rights, including due process and free speech under the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, public schools must not promote or favor religion; and
  • State and Local Laws: There are various state and local laws which may provide additional protections and regulations related to education.

What Protections Does FERPA Provide?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of an individual’s student records. FERPA applies to all public schools which are funded by the United States Department of Education.

FERPA provides parents with certain rights to access their child’s student records. These rights, however, transfer to the child after they turn 18 or graduate high school, whichever occurs first.
What Kind of Rights Concerning Student Records Does FERPA Grant to Parents and Students?

There are a variety of rights related to student records which FERPA provides to students who are eligible as well as to parents. Parents as well as eligible students have the right to see the student’s education records which are maintained by the school.

This does not mean, however, that the school is required to provide a copy of the records unless there is no other way for the parent or student to see the records due to their location. In addition, the school is permitted to charge a fee for providing copies and shipping the records.

An eligible student or parent also has the right to request that a school correct any information on the records which is believed to be incorrect or misleading. If a school refuses to update the information, the parent or student then has a right to have a formal hearing to decide the issue.

If the hearing is decided in favor of the school and no changes are required, the parent or student is permitted to put their own statement in the record telling their version of the information which they contest.

Can Schools Release a Student’s Educational Records to Anyone?

No, in general, a school is only permitted to release a student’s education records to a party other than a parent or eligible student by obtaining written consent from the parent or eligible student.

There are, however, certain exceptions to this rule, including:

  • School officials with educational-related interests can see student records without prior permission from the parents or eligible students;
  • A school to which a student is transferring is permitted to obtain their records without prior permission;
  • Officials connected with financial aid that is being provided for the student can obtain their records without permission; and
  • A subpoena may substitute for written consent by a parent or student if law enforcement officials wish to obtain the student’s records.

What Legal Systems are Involved in Suing a Public School or School District?

The rights a parent has against a public school or a school district involve different areas of law, including:

Administrative laws are those laws which govern the activities of governmental agencies, which includes public schools. Pursuant to administrative laws, the majority of agencies have a board, commission, or other type of tribunal which adjudicates issues.

An administrative court is usually composed of experts in their particular field. It will only adjudicate matters within the field by applying the policies of the agency as well as their rules.
Criminal law and civil law issues are handled in a court and involve a judge presiding over the case or a jury hearing the case. These laws govern legal issues including criminal offenses and personal liability.

In the majority of cases, an individual will be required to file a complaint against the responsible party as well as to exhaust any available administrative avenues prior to filing a lawsuit. The requirements for filing these types of complaints vary by state.

There are certain states which require a notice of claims. This is a statement which identifies an individual’s legal cause of action, for example, discrimination or failure to prevent injury.

When Must You File Your Initial Complaint?

As previously noted, an individual will typically be required to exhaust any available administrative complaint process with the school and school district prior to filing a lawsuit. This process applies because many of the policies related to school issues are developed at the school district level, including:

  • Discipline;
  • Safety;
  • Bullying; and
  • Other issues.

Pursuant to school law, the deadlines for filing an administrative complaint may vary by school district. An individual will need to determine the deadline of their school district as soon as possible following an incident.

In the majority of cases, an investigation will follow once a complaint is made. Many administrative complaints may be positively resolved without having to file a lawsuit.

If a resolution is not possible, an individual may be required to file a formal lawsuit against the responsible parties. A lawsuit against a public school is typically related to claims against a school for issues, including:

  • Failure to comply with disability laws;
  • The improper application of discipline; and
  • Failing to protect a child against being bullied by another student.

Can You Sue Regarding Special Education and Students with Disabilities?

A student who requires special education as well as students with disabilities have certain rights in relation to schools. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides that a child who qualifies and has a disability is entitled to a free and appropriate education.

A public school is required to evaluate a child to determine if they meet this qualification. A child who does not meet these requirements is entitled to receive specialized services and instruction from their school.

If a school fails to comply with IDEA, there are grounds for a complaint.

Should I Consult a Lawyer?

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to seeing your child’s student records or your own student records, it may be helpful to consult with a government attorney. Your attorney can advise you of your rights and whether you may be entitled to an injunction or money damages in a lawsuit against the school.