Whether you are the custodial parent or not, under Illinois law you are entitled to full access to your child’s public school records unless there is a court order limiting your rights. Access to private school records is controlled by the enrollment agreement with the private school. Each state has its own laws governing school records and you will need to consult the laws of your state if your child attends public schools in a state other than Illinois.
A common misconception is that unless the divorce judgment addresses access to Illinois public school records, the non-custodial parent is restricted or precluded from school information. You do not need a court order restating your right to school information – you have that right under two laws – The Illinois School Students Records Act (105 ILCS 10/1) and Section 10-28.1 of the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/10-28.1.
The Illinois School Student Records Act provides: “A parent or any person specifically designated as a representative by a parent shall have the right to inspect and copy all school student permanent and temporary records of that parent’s child. A student shall have the right to inspect and copy his or her school student permanent record. No person who is prohibited by an order of protection from inspecting or obtaining school records of a student pursuant to the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986, as now or hereafter amended, shall have any right of access to, or inspection of, the school records of that student. If a school’s principal or person with like responsibilities or his designee has knowledge of such order of protection, the school shall prohibit access or inspection of the student’s school records by such person.”
Any request for records must be granted within 15 days of making the request to the school records custodian, usually the Superintendent of the school district. To assure compliance, you should make your request in writing and reference that you are requesting to review your student’s records under the School Student Records Act. The school district may have a form it requires you to fill out for your request. The school may make the records available immediately, schedule an appointment for you to review the records, or simply send you the records. School district policies vary based upon the number of students in the district and the staff resources available to respond to requests. The school may charge a “reasonable fee” for copying records (currently no more than 35 cents per page), which must be waived if the parent can not afford the fee.
In the event that the student’s records contain inaccurate information, either by error or act of the other parent, you have the right to “challenge the accuracy, relevance or propriety of any entry in the school student records, exclusive of (i) academic grades of their child and (ii) references to expulsions or out‑of‑school suspensions” and to insert in their child’s school student record a” statement of reasonable length setting forth their position on any disputed information” contained in that record. Should a school refuse to provide access, informal appeals may be made to the Regional Office of Education or the Illinois State Board of Education to intervene. In addition, the refusal to provide access to public school records is subject to an action for injunctive relief and if the court finds the school to have willfully or negligently violated the law, the school can be held liable for damages, litigation costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. Wilful failure to comply with the law can also result in criminal penalties to the persons denying access to student records.
In addition to access to Illinois public school records, you are entitled to receive notices from the school as to event and issues affecting your child. Section 10-28.1 of the Illinois School Code provides that each public school board must provide such notices: “In the absence of any court order to the contrary to require that, upon the request of either parent of a pupil whose parents are divorced, copies of the following: reports or records which reflect the pupil’s academic progress, reports of the pupil’s emotional and physical health, notices of school‑initiated parent‑teacher conference, notices of major school‑sponsored events, such as open houses, which involve pupil‑parent interaction, and copies of the school calendar regarding the child which are furnished by the school district to one parent be furnished by mail to the other parent.”
A request to be sent notice should be made in writing in order to document your request in the event that the school fails to comply. As with the student records, to assure compliance, you should make your request in writing and reference that you are requesting to review your student’s records under Section 10-28.1 of the Illinois School Code. The school district may have a form it requires you to fill out for your request. The school board may not refuse to provide such notices unless it has been furnished with a certified copy of the court order prohibiting the release of such information. As with the access to student records, informal appeals may be made to the Regional Office of Education or the Illinois State Board of Education to intervene if a school refuses or fails to comply with the law. If necessary, you may also take the school district to court to enforce this right. Do not let the misunderstandings of the other parent or school staff deter you form staying informed as to your child’s school progress and activities.
Even if your divorce judgment requires the other parent to provide you copies of school records and notices, you should take the above steps to assert your rights independent of the other parent living up to the divorce judgment. Keeping informed of your child’s education and school activities is critical in both raising your child and for any future custody or visitation issues that may arise.
Richard Coffee is a Senior Attorney in the Fairview Heights, Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C.