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When Is a Step-Parent a Parent for Purposes of Disclosing Educational Records?

An April 15, 2009 letter from the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) addresses a complaint filed by a parent indicating that the school improperly disclosed the student’s private educational information to a step-parent and grandparent during a meeting at school.  If the child’s father has parental rights and permitted the disclosure to the step-mother and grandmother, FERPA does not prohibit the disclosure, despite the objection of the biological mother.  Furthermore, the term “parent” includes “an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a guardian”.  The US DOE has determined that a parent is “absent” if he or she is not present in the day-to-day home environment of the child.  Therefore, if the step-parent is present in the home of the child on a day-to-day basis and the mother is not present, the step-parent would be considered a “parent” for purposes of FERPA and, according to the FPCO letter, disclosures of educational records to the step-parent would be permissible.