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Congress Passes Key Foster Care Education Bill

1.7.2013

The recently enacted Uninterrupted Scholars Act (USA) successfully amended the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), that acted as a barrier to child protection agencies receiving foster children’s educational records without parental consent.  To protect the control a parent has over their child’s school records, FERPA prohibited distribution of Department of Education funds to educational agencies that released a student’s education records without parental consent. The law failed to recognize situations when government agencies have temporary custody of foster children and caseworkers need to obtain school records to make decisions about foster children’s educational needs.

Minnesota law currently requires a county to ensure a foster child’s educational stability while in foster care which includes obtaining a foster child’s school records.  Prior to passage of USA, federal law prohibited case workers from getting school records in child protection cases when parents refused to sign a release of school records. Under USA, case workers, state and local child welfare representatives and tribal organizations are authorized to receive a student’s educational records under a court order issued in the context of the child protection proceeding without consent or notification to a parent involved in such proceeding.

This is a victory for foster youth who are oftentimes forced to repeatedly change schools. We are hopeful that this new law will help foster children transition more smoothly to new schools, because efficient transfer of school records will prevent delays in enrollment which in turn result in lost credits, stalled academic progress and grade repetition.