Student Frequently Asked Questions

The following information contains answers to questions involving students enrolled in public schools.

A parent is entitled to a copy of all education records that are directly related to a student and maintained by a public school under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Those regulations are in Chapter 99 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations. What it means to be an "education record" under FERPA is less clear since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the peer grading case (the tests being graded were not found to be student records). State law also recognized parental access to student records under our Public Information Act (Section 552.114, Texas Government Code and Section 26.004, Texas Education Code).

If a record exists that is directly related to a particular student, that student's parents generally have a right to a copy of the record, subject to a very few health and safety exceptions, such as criminal investigations, and subject to protecting confidential information about other students.

Unless exempted from attendance by Texas Education Code Section 25.086, a child who is at least six years old and under 19 years of age is required to attend school. There are several exemptions from this requirement. A primary exemption is for students who are enrolled in a private or parochial school, including a home school. Another primary exemption applies to students who are at least 17 years of age and are either enrolled in a GED (high school equivalency) program or have received either a high school diploma or a GED certificate. The statutes stating the compulsory ages of attendance and the exemptions from attendance are Sections 25.085 and 25.086 of the Texas Education Code. If a child is required to attend school and fails to do so, criminal charges may be brought against the parent under Section 25.093.

There are no state guidelines. This issue has been litigated as a constitutional challenge to drug-testing programs in public schools. While a number of cases have been decided or are on appeal, about all that can be definitively said is that random testing of student athletes is constitutional, since that has been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Beyond that, there is no definitive guidance.

In Owasso Independent School District No. I-011 v. Falvo, decided Feb. 9, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court held that having students grade each others' papers and call out the grades does not violate FERPA, the federal confidentiality statute. The court did not address whether a grade on an individual assignment is a protected "education record" after it is recorded in the teacher's grade book.

House Bill 1276 enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2001 added Section 25.0021 to the Education Code that requires a student to be identified by either the name on the birth certificate or a court order changing the student's name. The only way to identify a student by a different name would be to have his name legally changed.

Personal information about students is governed by the federal law known as FERPA. Name, address and phone number can often be given out as directory information under that statute, though social security numbers should not be given out. There are provisions in the FERPA regulations allowing information to be shared with certain educational oversight agencies, such as TEA or the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), as well as other exceptions. The regulations (Chapter 99 of Title 34 of the US Code of Federal Regulations) are fairly readable and on the US DOE website.

Information about public employees is generally public, except that Section 552.024 of the Texas Government Code requires a process by which an employee be given 14 days to choose to keep a home address, phone number, social security number and family information confidential. There is no real distinction to releasing information over the telephone; either it has been released or not released. 

A student is entitled to enroll in Texas public schools based on residency in the district, regardless of whether she is pregnant or parenting. Federal law also prohibits discrimination in an educational program on the basis of pregnancy.

The only authorization to withhold records is Section 31.104(d) of the Texas Education Code, which allows withholding an official transcript (only) because of failure to pay for a lost textbook. Even then, the district may not withhold the report card indefinitely. Under Section 28.022 of the Education Code, a school district must give the parent written notice of the student's performance in each class of subject at least once every 12 weeks. The district must comply with Section 28.022 regardless of nonpayment of fines.

A social security number (SSN) is generally used to report students in the state system, but other options are available. Most student-identifiable information, including SSN, is protected as confidential by state and federal law. A student who does not have a social security number or whose parents do not wish to disclose it is assigned a state-issued number.

In-school suspension is implicitly recognized by reference in Texas Education Code Section 37.002 (c), but is not regulated by the state. It is determined by local district policy.

Each school district has a Student Code of Conduct that describes the policy decisions that the district's board has made regarding student discipline. While there are state minimums under Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, a district is generally free to determine what punishments it will use.

School districts must keep some student records permanently. The office assigned to maintain those records is determined locally. A school district retains student records for a period of time determined by its local record retention plan, but some retention periods are determined by schedules published by the State Library and Archives Commission.