Parents and guardians have the right, under OPRA, to access copies of children’s student records. Access to these records becomes more important when parents and guardians are working to secure services for their child. As followers of this blog know, access to records (whether through the voluntary conduct of the records custodian or through litigation) almost always starts with a well-written OPRA request.
First, make your relationship with the student clear. Do not assume the records custodian is personally familiar with you or your child.
Second, OPRA requests should be made separate and apart from other communications. The only issue addressed in an OPRA request should be access to records. Requests for records should not be made under multiple laws, and should not be made in connection with requests for discovery in any related proceedings. This minimizes confusion.
Third, unless directed to do so otherwise, the OPRA request should be transmitted to the records custodian. In our experience, the records custodians for school boards tend to be the “Business Administrator/Board Secretary.” Check a Board’s website, if they have an OPRA form on the Board’s website, sometimes that identifies the Board’s records custodian and their contact information.
Fourth, the request must be made in writing and receipt should be confirmed. The best confirmation is a written acknowledgement from the records custodian. In high-conflict situations, considering transmitting the request to be transmitted via email and certified mail, return-receipt requested with signature confirmation.
Fifth, the request should be sufficiently specific. While there is a bit of an art to crafting a sufficiently specific request, it is best to start narrow and see what is disclosed. By starting narrow, initial disclosures may identify other types of records that should be requested.
Sixth, the request should specify that it is being made pursuant to OPRA and the common law right of access. For common law requests, the request should give some detail regarding the requestor’s specific interest in the records, otherwise a reviewing court may not give the common law request much weight.
Seventh, act on denials quickly. The statute of limitations to file a denial of access lawsuit is 45 days.