Student Records and Child Abuse Investigations (March 2019 School Leader Update)
There have been some questions about whether schools and AEAs may provide information from student records to the Department of Human Services (DHS) when DHS is undertaking a child abuse investigation. The questions concern whether such information may be provided without parental consent. The Department of Education provides the following guidance.
As a general rule, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires consent before an educational agency releases personally identifiable information from student records. FERPA does not specifically provide a “child abuse investigation” exception to FERPA’s consent requirements; however, the federal office responsible for interpreting and enforcing FERPA has issued guidance that would allow schools to disclose information relevant to DHS in conjunction with a child abuse investigation.
This federal guidance is based on a federal law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which was amended after FERPA was passed. The CAPTA amendments require disclosure of information that FERPA would otherwise protect from disclosure. The federal government has determined that CAPTA, as the more recently enacted statute, should prevail over contrary provisions of FERPA. The Department of Education has examined this federal guidance, and concluded that districts and AEAs may justifiably rely on it.
Therefore, please be advised that a school district or an area education agency may provide personally identifiable information contained in student records to DHS in conjunction with a child abuse investigation without the necessity of obtaining parental consent. This rule applies to children of all ages and without regard to whether a child is in general education or special education.
If you have any questions about this matter, please contact Thomas Mayes (515-242-5614) if the question concerns a child receiving special education or Nicole Proesch (515-281-8661) if the question concerns a child who is not receiving special education.
 Letter to University of New Mexico (FPCO Nov. 29, 2004). This letter is available at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/library/baiseunmslc.html