Exploring the old school records of the State Archives

Exploring the old school records of the State Archives

Black Lake School Yearbook, 1857
Territorial School Ledger from Mime School District, entry dated July 2, 1855 (Black Lake Township, Thurston County)

It’s September and the start of a new academic year, so the branches of the Washington State Archives are abuzz with new and returning student interns. This inspired us to think about about school records, so let’s explore what Archives’ school collections encompass.

Some of the records we have are from either the state or county levels, including: maps for school boundaries, bus routes, teacher contracts, superintendents’ reports, school annual reports, county school district audit examinations, school censuses, yearbooks, and other materials. Some of the collections are very limited while others are vast. Our records pertaining to territorial schools are very limited.

When searching for a specific school or school district, a researcher needs to take into consideration the time period in which the school was in operation, its location, and whether it was later absorbed by another school district.

Finding the location of early territorial schools can require in-depth research, as some recent Archives patrons found out. A search for the Black River School of Littlerock, circa 1861, turned up a 99-year lease. The lease was with Ruben L. Doyle, recorded in deed book three of Thurston County.[i]

The bulk of the school record collections are public records and can be viewed by anyone. Some school records are restricted from public view by federal and/or state law during a student’s lifetime.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is defined in 20 U.S.C.
§ 1232g; and 34 CFR Part 99 details its regulations.[ii]  Students and their parents are permitted access to the student’s records, as well as designated education officials performing official duties.

FERPA contains an exception permitting the release of “directory information” without seeking written permission from the student. Educational institutions must define what constitutes “directory information” for their institution.


[i] The location of the Black River School was in Section 2 of Township 13 North, Range 3 West. For an exact description see deed book 3 page 683 Rueben L. Doyle to Black River School.

[ii] For an explanation of FERPA see:  The FERPA statute is found at 20 U.S.C. § 1232g and the FERPA regulations are found at 34 CFR Part 99, U.S. Department of Education web site: https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/faq/what-ferpa .

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