By Teresa T. Combs and Shannon Pratt Stiglitz
KSBA supported the passage of legislation that will allow school districts to freely share education records with the state juvenile justice system, working with Rep. John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the Kentucky Unified Juvenile Task Force, who added the educational records language to the legislation. The statute will be effective June 25.
KSBA recommended adoption of the statute to the Kentucky Unified Juvenile Code Task Force, which was charged with recommending changes in the Kentucky Unified Juvenile Code to the legislature. This new ability to freely share records with the juvenile justice system, including court-designated workers (CDWs), prior to adjudication is a giant step toward facilitating teamwork between school districts and the juvenile justice system to assist troubled students.
For more than a year, we have attended numerous meetings with school districts and state agencies and provided testimony to the task force to foster a better understanding of the legal obligations of the agencies involved. The task force members reached a consensus that the legislation was needed to facilitate sharing of student records.
Currently, Kentucky school districts are not authorized to release records protected under the federal Family Educational and Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to CDWs without parent consent, subpoena or court order. To freely share education records with a state juvenile justice system, FERPA regulations require a state to have a specific enabling statute stating that record sharing is for the purpose of effectively serving students prior to adjudication.
Until June 25, Kentucky school districts will still violate FERPA by giving education record information to CDWs without parent consent, court order or subpoena. However, as of June 25, school districts may give education records to CDWs without a court order, parent consent or subpoena under Kentucky’s new enabling statute. That language is found in House Bill 54 and the new provision will be codified into a new section of KRS Chapter 600.
While the U.S. Department of Education (USED) has issued a letter granting an exception that allows certain education records to be released when a district reports child neglect, abuse or dependency, this exception does not allow release of such records to the juvenile justice system in Kentucky. This is because KRS 605.030 expressly prohibits CDWs from investigating neglect, abuse and dependency. Other state agencies are assigned the responsibility to receive and investigate any type of child neglect report.
Under KRS 620.030, school district staff are directed to report neglect, abuse or dependency to local law enforcement, the Kentucky State Police, the Cabinet for Families and Children, the commonwealth’s attorney or the county attorney. Further, the USED exception allows release of only the records needed to report the abuse, neglect or dependency. The USED stated this exception does not allow a blanket release of all education records in this situation.
KSBA looks forward to continuing to work with the Juvenile Code Task Force and state agencies to promote the best interests of students. To that end, KSBA will ask task force Co-Chairs Tilley and Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) to assist us in convening a meeting of interested agencies to map out the implementation of this legislation.
The Kentucky General Assembly reauthorized the task force for another year. We will continue to update you as its work progresses.
Teresa T. Combs is director of KSBA’s Legal and Administrative Training Services and Shannon Pratt Stiglitz is director of KSBA’s Governmental Relations Service.