State Schools Face the Music, Open Records

Over a year ago the Massachusetts State Legislature passed a bill requiring public elementary and high schools to allow students over 18 and the parents of students under 18 to inspect the students' school records.

The law passed in September 1973 is similar in intent to the "Buckley amendment" passed by the U.S. Senate which extends the right of access to college and university students. About 20 states have similar legislation, although the scope of the laws varies.

The Massachusetts law, which was sponsored by Rep. Lois G. Pines (D-Newton) states only that each school committee must allow a parent, guardian or student over 18, upon request, to inspect "academic, scholastic or any other records concerning such pupil." The law provides no procedure for enforcement.

Pines said Wednesday that although there was debate on the bill and opposition from the state association of superintendents, the bill did not attract a great deal of attention. Her attempt last April to extend the state law to higher education was killed when the bill died in committee. "Harvard killed it," Pines said, by lobbying heavily against the proposed bill.

Jonathan Brant, legal counsel to the Governor's Commission on Privacy and Personal Data, said last week that compliance with the state law varied from school to school. "In the better suburban districts with active parents' groups there was more compliance," he said. Brant said the legislation had already forced some school systems to "take a hard look at the information that they keep" and to restructure their student record system.

Last January the State Department of Education began to work on regulations to supplement the original legislation. A draft of the regulations was presented to two open hearings in September, and with slight revisions will probably be adopted at the December meeting of the state board of education.

The federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which is charged with writing regulations for the federal bill, has been in touch with the Massachusetts Department of Education and may use the state regulations as a basis for national guidelines.

The proposed state guidelines extend the right of access to students who are at least 14 years old or in the 9th grade.

The guidelines would also forbid dissemination of any material in the file to a third party without the written consent of the student or parent, and provide a mechanism for an appeal by students or parents who want to discard information they consider irrelevant or misleading.

Over 30 people spoke at the public hearings on the state regulations last January. "The guidance counselors descended en masse," Brant said. "Some of them were so angry they couldn't enunciate their objections."