What's in Your Child's File?

They could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection from college. A job could hang in the balance. They are youre child's valuable school records. But did you know a wide range of people have access to them? do you even know what's in your child's file? experts say you need to know your record rights.

Parents should know that there may be errors in their child's files, in their child's records. And, schools can, under certain circumstances, release information without the parent' consent. Surprised? Pam Kaygan was. "It's never occured to me that something incorrect would be in their school records." Like mose parents, Pam doesn't do a regular check of her kids' school files.

Attorney Nessa Siegel helps parents police thier child's educational records, and says you should have a look once a year. "Parents have a right to see every record maintained by the school that is in regard to their child."

Trouble is, so do others. According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, more than a dozen entities can see your child's records as long as they have "legitimate educational interests." And, they don't need your permission.

Vera Gibbons of SmartMoney Magazine looked into parental rights and says the law is vague and leaves a door open. "Colleges, financial aid sources, educational sources, and others can in fact access these records."

"I think that we do a very good job of protecting the rights," says Paul Young, head of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. He insists your kid's records are in good hands. "I don't think you're going to find a situation where your child's permanent record is given to somebody by accident."

At the U.S. Department of Education, Leroy Rooker says complaints about schools mishandling files are not uncommon. "We probably receive in excess of a thousand complaints of alleged violations on a yearly basis."

What are your rights? Parents should have total access to their child's records, but be specific. You might call in and request your child's education file, that might not include the discipline records, because discipline records are maintained in a different area. Ask to see the log of who else has viewed the record. And if you want copies, the school must provide them at a reasonable cost. Finally, if you find mistakes, you have the right to appeal the record.

The Department of Education says the two main types of FERPA complaints it receives involve denial of access to parents and unauthorized release of records to third parties. If you find a mistake in your child's record and appeal it, there's nothing to force a school to change the record. You can, however add you own note to explain why you feel a mistake has been made. Experts say it's a good idea to have a copy of the file at home, so you can tell if something vanishes out of the file.