Q: We had varsity cheerleader tryouts last month and three candidates did not make the team. The parent of one of these girls has requested a copy of her daughter’s tryout evaluations and score cards. Do we have to give the mom copies of these documents?
A: Yes. Both state and federal law provide that a parent is entitled to all written records of a school district concerning their child, including records regarding participation in extracurricular activities.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires a school district to provide parents access to their child’s education records upon request. Taking it one step further, the Texas Education Code, in a section commonly referred to as the “parental rights statute,” provides that a parent is entitled to full information regarding the school activities of a parent’s child.” This section goes beyond a basic request for academic records (hence the reference to “full information”) and encompasses all school activities, including extracurricular (not just classroom matters). Thus, if a parent requests a copy of the tryout evaluation form pertaining to their child, the law requires that the district provide the parent with a copy.
Multiple documents, of course, may be responsive to a general request for tryout evaluation forms, including teacher evaluations, judging score sheets, tabulation records, etc. To the extent your selection process includes teacher feedback, note that a parent’s access to “full information” requires that the teachers identify themselves on the evaluation forms by name. In Byard v. Clear Creek ISD, the school used anonymous evaluations in a cheer tryout process to get teacher input on each candidate’s attitude, integrity and responsibility. One parent’s child did not make cheerleader and the parent requested the evaluation documents. Upon receipt and discovery that the evaluations did not identify the teachers issuing the particular ratings, the parent then requested the identity of the teachers who completed each form in order to discuss with the teachers the basis for their scores. When the District refused to reveal the teacher’s identity, the parent appealed to the Commissioner, who ruled in favor of the parent. The Commissioner held that the Texas Education Code provides parents with a “greater right to information about a child’s school activities” than that of the Texas Public Information Act or even FERPA. The Commissioner went on to find that “anonymous evaluations of a student which determine a grade or whether a student may participate in a school-related program violate Tex. Educ. Code §26.008(a).” Because schools are required to “partner with parents in their child’s education,” the Commissioner held that anonymous evaluations also violate Education Code section 26.001.
To the extent that you might receive a request for evaluation forms for all candidates (not just the child of the requestor), FERPA would require redaction of personally identifiable information of all candidates other than the child of the parent making the request. Personally identifiable information would include name, competition number, order of presentation or any other notation on the documents that could easily trace or identify the student. Sometimes FERPA determinations can be difficult, so don’t hesitate to contact your school district’s attorney with questions.