When can parents get school records?

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

All children need to feel safe and be safe at school. This is especially true for children who have suffered from the effects of domestic violence.

Restricting an abusive parent’s access to school records can keep the parent from harming a child's education. Restricted access can keep an abusive parent from finding out:

  • where the child and the non-abusive parent live, and 
  • where the non-abusive parent works.

Most of the time, both parents can see their child’s records from a public elementary, middle, or high school, unless there is a court order that:

  • specifically says otherwise,
  • denies them visitation or parenting time,
  • only allows supervised visitation because of a threat of safety to children, or
  • denies them legal custody because of a threat of safety to children.

To make sure the other parent cannot see their child’s records, you have to already have one of the court orders above or get one of these court orders.

What are school records?

School or student records covered under the Massachusetts law include:

  • report cards and progress reports, 
  • the results of intelligence and achievement tests,
  • referral notices for special needs assessments,
  • notification of enrollment in an English learner program,
  • notification of absences and illnesses, 
  • notification of any detentions, suspensions, or expulsion, and
  • notification of permanent withdrawal or dropping out from school.

Student records can also be papers, files or materials about a student that are:

  • important to the educational process, and
  • sorted by the student's name or stored in a way that makes the student identifiable.

This includes information kept by teachers, guidance counselors, and school nurses, but does not include their personal notes.

Who can get a child's school records?

These people can access a child’s K-12 public school records:

  • The student’s parent or legal guardian.
  • The student themselves if they are eligible, which means they:
    • are at least 14 years old, or
    • are in 9th grade. 
  • An agency with legal authority to act on behalf of the student instead of, or working alongside, their parent or legal guardian. Like the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Youth Services (DYS).

The parent does not need to have custody to be able to get their child’s school records.

Note for immigrant parents

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can only see your child’s school records if you agree, or if they get a court order.

Can both parents get their child's school records?

Generally, yes. Both parents can usually have access to their child's school records. Even noncustodial parents, or parents who do not have a court order for custody, usually have access to these records. Find out more about when a parent is not allowed to see or get school records below.

What does it mean to be a “custodial” or a “noncustodial” parent?

For purposes of school records, a “custodial” parent is a parent the child lives with. This is also called having physical custody. This includes: 

  • A parent who has a court order for sole or shared physical custody. 
  • Married parents where there has not been a court order about custody. 

“Noncustodial” parents are everyone else. A noncustodial parent does not have physical custody of the child. They may have legal custody. A noncustodial parent would include a father of a child born to parents who are not married to each other, unless the child lives with the father or there is a court order giving the father physical custody.

Learn more about custody arrangements.

When is a parent not allowed to see or get copies of their child's school records?

Some parents are not allowed to see or get copies of their children's school records. 

A noncustodial parent is not allowed access to the records if:

  • A restraining order says so.
  • They are denied visitation or parenting time by a court order.
  • They are only allowed to have supervised visitation, based on a threat to the safety of the child, and the threat is specifically noted in a court order for custody or supervised visitation order.
  • There is a Probate and Family Court order that specifically says the parent cannot get the child’s school records. Or
  • They are denied "legal custody" based on a threat to the safety of the child. Learn more about legal custody.
How can I get a copy of my child's school records?

All parents must ask the school principal for the records in writing. The school reviews the student's record for any documents they have that limit or restrict a parent’s access to the student's records or information.

Custodial parents 

If you are a custodial parent, it is important to make sure school staff know that your child lives with you. You do not need to show paperwork or a court order. The school should give a custodial parent school records within 10 days after the request. 

Noncustodial parents

If you are a noncustodial parent and ask for your child’s school records:

  1. The school must tell the custodial parent right away that you asked for the child’s school records. 
    1. The school must send the custodial parent a letter by certified and first class mail. The letter must be in the custodial parent's primary language and in English. 
  2. The letter must tell the custodial parent that the school will give the records to you after 21 days unless they can prove that you should not get access to the records. You must wait 21 days. 
  3. After 21 days, the school will give you the records if:
    1. there are no documents in your child’s file limiting access, and
    2. the custodial parent did not give the school documents that show you should not get the records.
Does the school have to tell the other parent that you asked for records?

If a noncustodial parent asks for a child’s records, the school must tell the custodial parent by mail right away. Learn more about what happens when a noncustodial parent asks for records. 

If a custodial parent asks for the child’s records, the other parent is not notified.

What if a custodial parent doesn’t want the noncustodial parent to have access to school records?

If you have custody and your child’s noncustodial parent asks the school for records, you have 21 days to show documentation of any of the court orders below. You must show the school principal that you have a court order which:

  • prohibits or restricts contact with the child (often a restraining order),
  • prohibits distribution of school record information, or
  • was issued to protect the child from abuse by the non-custodial parent.

If you show that you have 1 of these court orders, the school is legally not allowed to give the noncustodial parent access to student records.

If a noncustodial parent has not yet asked for access to school records, you can write a letter to the principal. In the letter:

  • Write that you are the custodial parent. 
  • Write that if the noncustodial parent asks for your child's school records, the school must tell you. 
  • Ask the school to put this letter into your child's records.
Is a noncustodial parent allowed to visit the school or attend meetings with teachers?

Unlike student records where there are clear laws about who can get them and who cannot, there are no similar laws about school meetings or conferences. 

If the noncustodial parent comes to the school or attends teacher meetings, and you are worried about 

  • risks of abuse to yourself or your child, or
  • the noncustodial parent interfering with your child’s education,

tell the school. 

If there is a restraining order against the other parent that orders them to stay away from you or your child, tell the school. Bring the restraining order with you. Give the school any court order that prohibits the other parent’s access to school records.

If the child’s noncustodial parent is restricted from seeing school records, the school should not be sending them notices about meetings or conferences. But the parent could learn about the conference from other people. Or the school might send them a notice by mistake. In circumstances like this, you can ask the school not to allow the other parent to meet with staff, come to meetings, or come to the school.

Everyone should remember that communications among teachers, staff, and parents are likely to include information that is in the student's record. It is best not to allow parents with restricted access to records to be involved in these conversations.


Parents who are allowed to access school records do not have to be allowed to participate in school meetings or events the school told them about. 

Noncustodial parents who are allowed to access school records are not automatically allowed to participate in school proceedings and decisions unless there is a custody order that says they are.

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