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How and why to obtain your child’s school records

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by: Deidre Hayden | February 9, 2016

As a parent of a child with learning disabilities, you have a special interest in knowing what is in your child’s school records. This is true because of the significant information these records offer you about your child and also because of the emphasis schools place on these records when making educational decisions. If any information in your child’s records is inaccurate, biased, incomplete, or inconsistent, this material may well result in inaccurate decisions regarding your child’s right to special education services. For these reasons you must know how to obtain, interpret, and correct these records and how to use them effectively in school meetings. This article will give you an overview of your rights to your child’s records.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Schools are required by federal and state laws to maintain certain records and to make these records available to you upon request. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) establish the minimum requirements school systems must meet in maintaining, protecting, and providing access to students’ school records. State laws will sometimes go beyond these minimum requirements and provide parents with additional rights to review, modify, or seek other changes in these records. Be sure to obtain a copy of your own state’s and school district’s school records laws and procedures by contacting your school district’s director of special education.


Obtaining your child’s records from the local school
Getting copies of your child’s school records should be fairly easy. While federal law does not specifically require school systems to provide parents with copies of these records, in practice most school systems do so upon request.


Types of files
Begin by asking the school principal about the location of your child’s various files or records. These will include:
•   Cumulative file. The principal will have your child’s cumulative file, which you will want to see and copy. Often the cumulative file contains
     little more than a profile card with personal identification data and perhaps academic achievement levels, some teacher reports, and
     report cards.

•   Confidential file. Also accessible to parents, the confidential file may be kept at your child’s school, or in a central administrative office
    where the special education program offices are located. The file is called confidential because access to the information is limited to
    certain individuals. Your child’s confidential record includes all of the reports written as a result of the school’s evaluation; reports of
     independent evaluators, if any; medical records that you have had released; summary reports of evaluation team and eligibility committee
     meetings; your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); and, often, correspondence between you and school personnel.

•   Compliance file (some schools). Some school systems keep the reports of eligibility meetings, correspondence between the parents and
     school officials, and other similar documents in a separate compliance file. The contents of the compliance file demonstrate that the school
     system has met the timelines, notification, and consent regulations required by IDEA.

•   Discipline file (some schools). Some schools may also maintain a separate file regarding discipline issues involving long-term suspension or
    expulsion.
A good bit of detective work is sometimes required to understand your school system’s individual filing system!

Getting copies of records
School districts usually require parents to sign a “release of information” form before they will provide copies of schools records. You can often obtain that form through your child’s school, or by simply writing a letter to the school principal or special education director, requesting a copy of school records. In many school districts, parents can go to the district’s special education offices and fill out a form to request their children’s records.

School districts usually provide the first copy of records for free. If they do charge a fee, the fee can be only for the cost of reproducing and mailing the records, not for personnel time or other costs. Again, check your local policies and procedures for your district’s process.

Records open to parents
Once you have gained access to your child’s records, does this mean you can see any and all records pertaining to your child? Which records is the school system legally required to show you? Under FERPA, schools must show parents all records, files, documents, and other materials that are maintained by the school system and contain information relating to their children. This includes all records referring to your child in any personally identifiable manner – that is, records containing your child’s name, Social Security number, student ID number, or other data making them traceable to her.

The following are excluded from the records schools must show you:

•   Notes of teachers, counselors, and/or school administrators, made for their personal use and shown to nobody else (except a substitute
    teacher)
•   Personnel records of school employees

Examining and correcting your child’s records

Even when you have your child’s records in your hands, you may wonder what you’ve got. The language of the educators, psychologists, educational diagnosticians, and other school professionals is often difficult to understand. If this is the case for you, all you need to do is ask someone to help you. The law requires school personnel to explain the records to you when you do not understand them. Or you may take a friend or a knowledgeable professional with you to help review the records and explain confusing parts. When you do this, however, you will be asked to sign a form giving that person permission to see your child’s records.

As you review the records, you may find places where information given about your child or family conflicts with your own assessments. If left unchallenged, this material could lead to decisions about your child’s educational program that are not in his or her best interest. To prevent this from happening, you can follow two paths.

•   First, you can informally ask the principal or the director of special education to delete the material, giving your reasons for the request.
    Often school officials will honor the request and no problem arises.
•   You may also write down your objections to a particular record and have that attached to the record.

If you strongly believe the report does not belong in your child’s record, and the schools refuse to remove the requested material, you have a right to a formal records hearing. Your state and local school district policies will tell you how to follow the more formal process for amending your child’s records.

Controlling who sees your child’s records
FERPA and IDEA prohibit schools from disclosing your child’s records to anyone without your written consent. The only exceptions are:
•   School officials, including teachers, in your child’s district with a legitimate educational interest as defined in the school procedures
•   School officials in the school district to which your child intends to transfer (Before the records are sent, however, you will want to review
     them and challenge their content, if necessary.)
•   Certain state and national education agencies, if necessary, for enforcing federal laws
•   Anyone to whom a state statute requires the school to report information
•   Accrediting and research organizations helping the school, provided they guarantee confidentiality
•   Student financial aid officials
•   People who have court orders, provided the school makes reasonable efforts to notify the parent or student before releasing the records
•   Appropriate people in health and safety emergencies such as doctors, nurses, and fire marshals
•  Law enforcement and judicial authorities in certain cases

With the exception of the people listed above, schools must have your permission to release material from your child’s records to anyone other than yourself. When requesting release of the records, the school must tell you which records are involved, why they have been requested, and who will receive them. Likewise, if you want someone outside the school system to see your child’s records, you will be asked to sign a release granting such permission. All of these rules have been instituted to protect your privacy and that of your child.

When your child reaches 18 or goes to post-secondary school
When your child reaches the age of 18 or enters a post-secondary educational institution such as a vocational-technical school, a college, a university, or trade school, most rights to records previously available to you are transferred to your child. The only parts of the record your child will not have the right to see are your financial records and any statements or confidential recommendations your child has waived the right to see. This means if you wish to review the school records of a son or daughter who is 18 or who is attending post-secondary school, she must first sign a waiver permitting you to do so.

IDEA gives parents of children with disabilities, including learning disabilities, special consideration when transferring record rights. The law grants states the authority to develop individual policies which take into account the type and severity of the child’s disability and the child’s age when transferring record rights from parents to their children. Thus, if your child with disabilities has reached age 18 or is about to reach 18 and is in secondary school, you should find out, by asking the director of special education in your school district, if your state has a policy that allows you continued access to your child’s records. If not, you and school personnel may want to develop a waiver form which your child can sign allowing you continued rights to review, to control access to, and to seek changes in those records.

When you move
If you should move, your child’s school records will, of course, move with you. To be certain your child’s new school receives only relevant and current records, you will want to examine the entire contents of the folder and identify specifically the material you want forwarded. Most school systems will honor your request and send only the information you want released. However, you should note that many states require schools to transfer records about any disciplinary violation; you do not have the option of excluding that information.

Should the school wish to send material you want withheld, you can initiate a records hearing procedure to prohibit them from doing so. In any case, before you move, always review your child’s school folder. You will want to eliminate the irrelevant, inaccurate, and dated material or attach your critique to those records you believe should have been removed but were not.

Because of the importance of your child’s records in determining special education services, you should review and correct them annually, whether or not you move. You should also be certain you have a duplicate copy of all the material in the official files. Then, if the records are lost, you will have copies to replace them.

A final note: thick records
Classroom teachers have been heard to comment, “When I see a thick set of records for a child new to my class, I know trouble is coming.” This is another reason for your diligence in reviewing your child’s records periodically. Many reports, especially those written several years previously, give little if any information that will be useful in current decisions about your child. A careful weeding out of irrelevant documents can help to avoid the thick record syndrome.

High school secrets to success

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High school secrets to success: a closely connected middle school

When middle and high schools work together, it can have a big impact on student success, including higher graduation rates and higher GPAs.

A surprising factor in high schools’ success at preparing students for college is a practice that’s not available for all high schools, but offers useful lessons for all schools: having a closely connected middle school. While research exploring the impact of combined middle and high schools on college enrollment is lacking, several winners of GreatSchools’ College Success Award credit their combined sixth to twelfth grade models as a part of their success.

In schools where middle and high schools share space and their administrative teams work closely together, several things happen that contribute to students’ postsecondary success. Students get familiar with a school’s culture and expectations earlier, which is especially helpful when the school has high expectations for postsecondary success; students have the opportunity to build longer-lasting relationships with teachers; and staff can identify and intervene with at-risk students earlier. Implementing more 6-12 and 7-12 systems may not be an easy solution for every district, but all schools can learn from these benefits.

A head start on learning school culture
Combined middle/high schools offer students more time to learn and internalize aspects of the school’s culture that will affect their success, while the schools have the opportunity to expose students to college and career pathways in earlier grades.

At College Success Award-winning Young Women’s Preparatory Academy, a rigorous college prep magnet school in Miami-Dade Unified School District, students enter in 6th grade and immediately start taking advanced classes to get them ready for AP classes in high school. In addition to walking halls filled with posters from the colleges where their older schoolmates are headed, middle schoolers receive explicit guidance from their college-bound peers. Through a structured program they call Big Sister, Little Sister, the high schoolers mentor middle schools students, helping them with academic and social challenges. The seniors run the entire program, guiding the high school mentors.

“[Middle schoolers] need a lot of attention, they need a lot of direction, they need a lot of structure,” says Concepcion Martinez, principal of YWPA, adding that if they get this attention during these early years, their college-going identity is formed, something that is much harder to do with incoming 9th graders.

At Newbury Junior/Senior High School in semi-rural Newbury, OH, high school students work directly with middle schoolers through a peer mentoring program. Principal Michael Chaffee says the high school’s celebration of college and career plans gets middle school students excited about their futures and makes them more passionate about learning.

Teacher relationships
The development of meaningful teacher-student relationships is critical for helping students succeed after high school. The longer teachers spend with students, the more invested they can be in supporting the student’s long-term growth, and the better they can understand individual students’ needs.

Such is the argument for the practice of looping, in which teachers and students remain together for two or more years. Research suggests that looping in the middle school years supports the development of meaningful teacher-student relationships and impacts learning and student achievement. There were even gains for new students who joined a group of classmates who had been with the same teacher for more than a year. The effects may be even more pronounced for groups traditionally underrepresented in college. A recent study showed that looping in elementary school increased student test scores, and the effects were greatest for minority students.

When middle and high schools operate together, many teachers naturally connect with students multiple times in their middle and high school lives — from childhood to young adulthood. A student may take 6th grade English, 8th grade history and 10th grade journalism all from the same teacher. When teachers and students have more time to develop strong relationships, teachers can spend less time on “getting to know you” activities every year and focus on helping each student grow to their highest potential.

Identifying student needs earlier
Starting in middle school also means identifying at-risk students even earlier than 9th grade. At Newbury, Chaffee says the school’s strong connection between middle and high school grades helps ensure all students receive a strong and consistent network of support. Teachers collaborate across grade levels, which is especially important for students who need extra help.

Having a connected middle school eliminates some of the hazards of the 9th grade crisis. The transition to high school is associated with a risk of failure, particularly for low-income students. Research shows that in ninth grade, students are more likely to miss classes, earn low grades, and have disciplinary issues than at any other time in high school.

Middle and high schools that are not connected can help ameliorate this by being strategic about the transition process. Advisory programs, which match small groups of students with teacher or staff, can help students get to know at least one adult on campus more quickly than the typical high school model where 9th grade students have six to eight teachers, and every teacher has a roster of 100 to 200 students.

Jean Baldwin Grossman, a lecturer of economics and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, has studied a multitude of ways to help prepare middle schoolers for high school transitions, and notes that a crucial step is to expose middle schoolers to the realities of high school life.

“A good place to start is developing some bridging activities,” she says. “Like having middle schoolers visit the high school.”

Some strategies for that exposure include high school orientation and summer bridge programs, which let students spend extra time in their new school and get a feel for high school culture and coursework. Elementary, middle, and high school teachers can also take steps to collaborate across the district to ensure curriculum and expectations are aligned, and to identify students who may need extra support.

Original article: Greater Schools

Office of the Commissioner of Languages Annual Report 2017-2018

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Rapport Annual 2017-2018

Madame, Monsieur,
C'est avec grand plaisir que je vous informe que j’ai déposé mon rapport annuel 2017‑2018 devant le Parlement ce matin.

Cette édition du rapport annuel présente l’ensemble des activités du Commissariat aux langues officielles et dresse un portrait des activités en matière de langues officielles du gouvernement en 2017-2018. Le rapport se divise en trois grands chapitres thématiques, à savoir les activités entourant le 150e anniversaire de la Confédération canadienne, les recherches et les interventions du Commissariat ainsi que les diverses initiatives mises en œuvre par le Commissariat et par les institutions fédérales en lien avec les langues officielles

Dans le rapport, je formule deux recommandations. La première vise l’avancement de la mise en œuvre des recommandations provenant du rapport du greffier du Conseil privé sur la langue de travail. La seconde recommande à Patrimoine canadien et au Conseil du Trésor de revoir les outils d’évaluation du rendement des institutions fédérales en matière de langues officielles.

Encore cette année, conformément à notre engagement environnemental, nous optons pour une édition uniquement électronique, que vous pouvez consulter sur le site Web du Commissariat. Bonne lecture!

Annual Report 2017-2018

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am very pleased to announce the release of my 2017–2018 annual report, which I tabled in Parliament this morning.

This annual report presents an overview of my office’s activities and describes some of the government’s actions regarding official languages in 2017‑2018. The report is divided into three thematic chapters: the 150th anniversary of Confederation; my office’s studies and interventions; and various initiatives taken by my office and by federal institutions regarding official languages.

I make two recommendations in the report: the first concerns the implementation status of the recommendations contained in the Clerk of the Privy Council’s report on language of work, and the second calls on the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the President of the Treasury Board to review the tools they use to evaluate federal institutions in terms of official languages.

Again this year, in keeping with our commitment to the environment, we are publishing only an electronic edition of the annual report, which is available on the Office of the Commissioner’s website. I hope you have an enjoyable read!

Raymond Théberge
Commissaire aux langues officielles |Commissioner of Official Languages

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