Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
I was surprised to receive a letter the other day addressed to me as school principal with the Connecticut Department of Corrections as the return address. I opened the letter and read that it was from a man purporting to be the father of one of my second grade students. In the letter, which was rather well-written by the way, the fellow wrote to request copies of his daughter’s report card for each marking period this year. He explained that he has plenty of time on his hands these days, and he wants to pay closer attention to his daughter’s academic progress.
I called the girl’s mother, and she started in on me! “That creep,” she said. “I have been asking him for child support for four years, but he managed to get himself locked up for some stupid crime. I want to keep him out of our lives at this point.” I asked her if she had any court order so providing, but she just shrugged her shoulders. “Who can afford that?” she asked rhetorically. “I just don’t want him getting report cards or any other school records, OK?”
I don’t want to complicate this poor woman’s life any more than I have to. Can I just write back to this guy and tell him that he should contact me when he is released from prison?
Mum’s the Word
Not so fast. For years, the Connecticut statutes have given non-custodial parents the right of access to educational and other records concerning their children. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-56(g) provides:
(g) A parent not granted custody of a minor child shall not be denied the right of access to the academic, medical, hospital or other health records of such minor child, unless otherwise ordered by the court for good cause shown.
In addition, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15b(a) has also long provided that
Either parent or legal guardian of a minor student shall, upon written request to a local or regional board of education and within a reasonable time, be entitled to knowledge of and access to all educational, medical, or similar records maintained in such student’s cumulative record, except that no parent or legal guardian shall be entitled to information considered privileged under section 10-154a [the law providing for confidentiality of student communications with teachers or school nurses concerning alcohol or drug abuse].
Moreover, since 2006, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15b(b) has also provided that the parent with whom a student does not primarily reside is entitled to receive “all school notices that are provided to the parent or legal guardian with whom the student primarily resides.” The school is obligated to provide such notices for as long as the student is enrolled in that school (and the other parent can renew the request if and when the student moves to a new school).
In the 2017 legislative session, the General Assembly added two further provisions to the statutes concerning access to school records. Apropos of your question, the General Assembly amended Section 10-15b(a) to clarify that incarcerated parents are entitled to receive school records of their children unless (1) they have been convicted of certain crimes of sexual assault, or (2) a court order prohibits access for such parent to the student’s cumulative record. Given this provision, your next letter should be back to the parent to ask for documentation of why he is serving time to assure that he was not convicted of a crime of sexual assault as listed in the amended statute. If he is not (and unless and until the mother obtains a court order providing otherwise), the incarcerated father is entitled to receive copies of his daughter’s report card.
Finally, in 2017 the General Assembly also amended Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-253(f). Subsection (f) provides that school districts are obligated to provide education to homeless youth in accordance with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Now, that subsection has been amended to provide further that an unaccompanied youth as defined in that Act, i.e. a homeless youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian, is also entitled to knowledge of and access to “educational, medical or similar records in the cumulative record of such unaccompanied youth maintained by a local or regional board of education.”