How To Request the Cumulative File

Parents need to know what is in their child’s cumulative file.  It doesn’t matter how often you talk to school staff about your child–you NEED to know what is in the cumulative file.  Information there will help you understand why the school does what it does with/for/to your child, may contain information about future plans for your child, and will have information about and copies of evaluations and evaluatio reports.  You truly NEED this information.

If you’re thinking you can just make a request for a copy of your child’s cumulative file by phone, stop. That’s fantasy. You can request that way, but if the district you’re in is the least bit lax about listening to parents, if it is a tad unwilling to share its records, if it is the honkin’ biggest discriminator around, you could be waiting a very, very long time for absolutely nothing to happen. Verbal requests are worth what they’re written on–air. School staff are busy, and verbal requests frequently are overlooked, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes gleefully intentionally. The rule is this: if you want your school district to do something for your child or your child’s case, make your request in writing and keep a copy in your home file.

When you write a request for a cumulative file, you need to identify your child seven ways from Sunday:
name, age, birth date, address, school district, school, grade, teacher’s name (for elementary students), student ID number. To make it easy on school staff, make a standardized letterhead for your school correspondence that includes your child’s data. Like this:

date

your return address

re: Child’s Name, Age
Date of Birth
Residing at: (address)
School District, School
Grade, Teacher’s Name

Next, put another Re: line, this time stating in 10 words or so what is the topic of the letter–Parent Request for Copy of Cumulative File.

In the first paragraph, identify your child. “My child is (name, age, birth date) who resides with me at (address) and attends (teacher’s name)’s class in (grade) at (school name) in (school district), (county name), (state).”

Then make your request. No extra words needed.

“This letter is to request a parent copy of (child’s name)’s cumulative file. I will stop by to pick it up on (give a date about 3-5 business days in the future to give time for copying). Thank you.”

If you can afford to pay for copies, you can stop writing and sign off here. If you can’t afford to pay for copies, here’s what you need to know.
1. Schools must make the cumulative file available for parents.

2. They may offer you access on school property, where you may decide to copy only certain pages if you wish and the school might or might not make those copies for you free of charge. They may not stand over you while you look it over. They may not withhold parts of it from you. (If they say there are other children’s names in the file, you will say, “We need to see all the cum, so please redact those pages for us.” That means black out the names to maintain other students’ confidentiality. They should not blacken out anything else–not teachers’ names, not events, not titles, etc.)  Cum files should contain medical information/records that schools must keep for children who take meds, vaccination record, etc., attendance records, teacher’s notes, samples of work, copies of IEPs/504 Plans, correspondence (all that is about your child),

3. The school may make a copy for you for free. YAY!

4. The school may exercise its right to charge a REASONABLE fee for copies. “Reasonable” has been interpreted by Supreme Court to mean no more than teachers are being charged to make their copies.

5. Schools may not charge “research fee,” staff time, filing fee, replacement fee or any other fee.

6. You may request the school to waive the fees for copies by writing, “We can’t afford to pay for copies, so we are asking that (school, district) waive the copying fee for us.” Most will do it. If not, go to the superintendent of the district (in a letter) stating that you have requested a copy of the cum so you can give informed consent at the next IEP meeting and your request to waive copying fees was denied. Then if it is true, you can say, “It imposes unreasonable hardship for either of us to take time from work to come to school to view the cum on site. For us to have equal knowledge of (child’s name)’s educational needs and to act as equal partners in the IEP/504 process, we need to have a copy of the cum. Please assist (school name) in waiving the cost of copies so we can perform our duties at the IEP/504 meeting as equal partners and give informed consent as (child’s name)’s parents.”

In your last paragraph, give your phone number for contact in case there are questions, state the date you will be there to pick up the file, and say thank you.

If you can’t pick up the file and don’t trust another adult to pick it up for you, DO NOT LET THE SCHOOL GIVE IT TO YOUR CHILD TO BRING HOME. Children are curious, and some things that are in cums can be devastating to children if they read them. If the school mails it, request it be mailed in a way that it can be traced and requires a signature for receipt. This guards against loss and offers proof as to whether or not you actually got your copy. DO NOT ASK FOR CUM FILES TO BE SENT TO A P.O. BOX. These files are often too large for these boxes, and some delivery companies will leave it on a doorstep where anyone, including other people’s children, can take it. Figure out where this mail can be delivered safely so YOU are the one who ultimately receives it. Then close with a thank you.

Come back soon and we’ll talk about what you do when you get that cum. You won’t believe how much information you can get from those papers that isn’t even on those papers! And you can do so much to support your child with what is in the cum that you won’t want to miss what’s coming up.

Till then, laughter and smiles, enjoy what’s left of summer!

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