In a decision dated July 19, 2021, the Superior Court of New Jersey determined that neither federal nor state law provides a right to a “due process” hearing when the dispute concerns a parent’s right of access to their child’s educational records.

In this matter, a brief history is necessary. In July 2015, the plaintiff, a mother of a minor eligible for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), filed a due process complaint with the New Jersey Department of Education.  The complaint was directed to the department’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), alleging that the school district failed to provide her child with the free and appropriate public education required by the IDEA. After filing the due process complaint, the mother requested a complete copy of her child’s general and special education records in advance of an administrative hearing. In response, the district produced two sets of records.

In September 2015, the mother filed a second due process complaint with OSEP, alleging that the district failed to provide a complete copy of student records as required under IDEA regulations. The OSEP transmitted the matter to the Office of Administrative Law. In response, the school district filed a “sufficiency challenge” and sought dismissal of the complaint. The administrative law judge dismissed the complaint, the trial judge affirmed the ruling, and the mother appealed.

The matter was then remanded to the trial court, which granted the district’s motion for summary judgment, finding the mother was not entitled to a due process hearing pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.7 or 34 C.F.R. 300.507. The mother appealed the trial court’s decision.

On appeal, the Superior Court noted the case implicated numerous federal and state statutes and regulations. The court found the IDEA was silent as to whether parents seeking educational records had a right to a hearing if records were withheld, and state statute also did not address a parent’s access rights to a child’s education records.

Specifically, the court held that although 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(3)(E)(iii) does not “preclude a hearing officer from ordering a local education agency to comply with procedural requirements” under the IDEA (which would include an opportunity for parents of disabled children to examine their children’s education records), it does not create an independent right to a due process hearing when a parent wishes to pursue a stand-alone denial-of-access claim.

Moreover, consistent with the IDEA, the New Jersey special education statute, at N.J.S.A. 18A:46-1.1, limits the scope of a due process hearing held pursuant to the IDEA, Title 18A, Chapter 46, or the implementing regulations, to “identification, evaluation, reevaluation, classification, educational placement, the provision of a (free and appropriate public education)  or disciplinary action, of a child with a disability.” Thus, the Superior Court agreed with the trial court that neither federal nor state law provided a right to a due process hearing when the dispute concerns a parent’s right of access to their child’s educational records.

More information about this decision can be found here. To learn more, board members are encouraged to contact their board attorney, in compliance with board policy, or contact the Legal, Labor, and Policy Department of the New Jersey School Boards Association at (609) 278-5254.