Dear Legal Mailbag:
After the extensive distribution of 1-to-1 devices that occurred to address student needs during the pandemic, we anticipate a challenge at all levels with students who move but fail to return their school-issued device. Many of my colleagues are threatening to withhold the transfer of student records until all debts are paid in full, but I believe that practice is not legal. Can you please clear up this legal issue for me?
Every so often, a faithful reader asks a very good question that Legal Mailbag can answer without saying, “It depends.” You have asked such a question, and as described below, you are correct as to the transfer of school records.
To be sure, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-221(c) provides:
(c) Boards of education may prescribe rules to impose sanctions against pupils who damage or fail to return textbooks, library materials or other educational materials. Said boards may charge pupils for such damaged or lost textbooks, library materials or other educational materials and may withhold grades, transcripts or report cards until the pupil pays for or returns the textbook, library book or other educational material.
One can certainly say that 1-1 devices provided to students for educational purposes during the pandemic can be considered “educational materials” that must be returned. As provided in this statutory provision, when students do not return such materials, the school district can “withhold grades, transcripts or report cards” until the student either pays for or returns the device.
Legal Mailbag notes, however, that your question refers to the withholding the transfer of “student records,” which is different from withholding grades, transcripts or report card. By statute, the receiving school is entitled to receive a copy of the student’s educational records when a student moves from one district to another. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220h provides in relevant part:
Sec. 10-220h. Transfer of student records. When a student enrolls in a school in a new school district or in a new state charter school, the new school district or new state charter school shall provide written notification of such enrollment to the school district in which the student previously attended school or the state charter school the student previously attended not later than two business days after the student enrolls. The school district in which the student previously attended school or the state charter school that the student previously attended (1) shall transfer the student’s education records to the new school district or new state charter school no later than ten days after receipt of such notification, and (2) if the student’s parent or guardian did not give written authorization for the transfer of such records, shall send notification of the transfer to the parent or guardian at the same time that it transfers the records. (Emphasis added).
Reading these two statutes together, Legal Mailbag concludes that sanctions on students who fail to return or pay for textbooks, library books and other educational materials are limited to withholding grades, transcripts or report cards from the student and his or her family. School districts continue to have a duty to transfer educational records to a receiving school within ten days of receiving notification from that school that a student has enrolled.
Legal Mailbag recognizes that this answer may disappoint those colleagues you mention. For whatever comfort it may bring them, please remind them that small claims court remains an option.
Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.