Your Kids In School: Your Rights and How To Stay Involved
This article discusses the fact that non-custodial parents retain rights that many school system administrators argue that non-custodial parents do not have.
Your Rights Under Federal Law
Non-custodial parents retain rights that many school system administrators argue that non-custodial parents do not have. For schools that receive federal funds, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 sets out requirements designed to protect the privacy of parentsand students. Any school or school system that does not recognize these rights will not qualify to receive federal funds. These rights are spelled out in Title 20, Section 1232g of the U.S. Code. The law requires a school district to:
provide a parent access to records directly related to the student,
provide a parent an opportunity to correct records believed to inaccurate or misleading,
with some exceptions (generally for research), the school must obtain written permission from a parent before disclosing information contained in a student’s education record.
The definition of "parent" is found in FERPA implementing regulation under 34 CFR 99.3.
"Parent" means a parent of a student and includes a natural parent, a guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a guardian. (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1232g).
CFR is Code of Federal Regulations.
The definition of parent includes both custodial and non-custodial parents. This is seen in the rights of parents under this code section as defined under 34 CFR 99.4:
An educational agency or institution shall give full rights under the Act to either [emphasis added] parent, unless the agency or institution has been provided with evidence that there is a court order, State statute, or legally binding document relating to such matters as divorce, separation, or custody that specifically revokes these rights. [emphasis added] (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1232g).
This means schools receiving federal funds must provide equal access to both natural parents, custodial and non-custodial, unless there is a legally binding document--such as a court order—that specifically removes these rights and the school has been provided with such documents. Existence of custody, parenting time, or visitation arrangements do NOT by themselves, affect FERPA rights of a child’s parents.
Federal law is enforced through federal funding incentives. However, almost ALL states provide these rights directly and apply to any local school system whether public or independent. Essentially these same rights are guaranteed under Georgia statute, Official Code of Georgia, Section 20-2-720. Custodial and non-custodial parents both are given these rights unless specifically removed by court order.
You Have Rights To More Than Just A Report Card
Without court order specifically stating otherwise, you have the rights to the same educational records as the custodial parent. This means the non-custodial parent has equal access to all school records, including:
emergency notification cards
any other reports
Be sure to inform in writing the school where you child attends that you want any type of progress report, evaluation, or notice of disciplinary action sent to you automatically as sent to the custodial parent. Always be polite in these matters and note that the school’s qualification for federal funds is dependent upon compliance with 20 U.S.C. 1232g--among others--to continue to receive federal funds. Never make any complaint a personal confrontation but put your concern in terms of wanting to be involved with your child’s education.
Additionally, if a child’s custodial parent has arranged medical treatment to be provided to your child at school and has provided necessary records to the school, you have a right of access to those records.
If you do not live close to your child’s school, you have the right to ask for reports to be mailed to you. You may consider leaving self-addressed, stamped envelopes with your child’s "home room" teacher or with the school office.
Go by the school and ask to check your child’s permanent records for any false information that may have been submitted to the school by the custodial parent regarding the appropriateness of your involvement at your child’s school.
Staying Involved With Your Child’s Education At School
"Rights" are only one-half of the equation in making the most of educating your child as a non-custodial parent. There also are responsibilities. There are many responsibilities related to making sure your child is putting forth the proper efforts in school. However, there are many roadblocks but overcoming them is rewarding for you and your child. Working to become more involved with your child’s school can actually be fun and create social opportunities. But, schools are traditionally oriented toward dealing with intact families and custodial parents. Generally, it does take a little extra effort to stay in touch with school activities. There are some general tips that can help you to overcome these difficulties.
1) Schools generally have open house one or two business days before the official start of school.
Call the school or school district administrative office to find out when your child’s school starts and ask when open house is being held. You should ALWAYS take time off from work to go to open house and meet your child’s teachers. Develop rapport with your child’s teachers and learn what their expectations are for your child. Generally, at open house, the teachers will explain their expectations regarding homework, etc. Knowing this will, first, help you keep your child focused and do better in school, and, second, help keep your ex-spouse from accusing you of not doing an adequate job of getting your child to do homework and prepare for tests.
2) Always join the PTA (Parent/Teacher Association--some areas have an equivalent PTO, Parent/Teacher Organization).
Sign-ups for PTA/PTO are usually at open house or during PTA/PTO meetings. Generally, any school parent can attend a PTA or PTO meeting but only members can vote on issues presented for a vote. PTA/PTOs generally are very good for providing various types of support for the school. This includes not only modest financial amounts through modest fees and fund-raisers but also other types of support as mentoring programs and teacher assistant programs. Being a volunteer for special projects is always a good way to find more time in your child’s life. PTA/PTOs often have volunteer sign-up lists. This can include anything from being a cook at a school fair to being a chaperone at a middle school dance.
3) Buy a "school calendar."
Most school districts make calendars for the school year which show holidays and key dates for report cards, graduation ceremonies, and other. These calendars usually cost only $2 or $3.
4) Get to know as many parents as possible of your children’s classmates--especially those of their friends. Pre-arrange car pooling for unexpected needs.
When you pick your kids up at school, introduce yourself to the other kids’ parents. Let them know who you are and find appropriate ways to let them know you can help with "car pooling" when they have a scheduling conflicts picking up their children. With mothers, this is common practice to acknowledge you need others’ help at times. You should offer to help and plan in advance who you can ask to help you with school "pick-up" needs.
5) Eat lunch with your child as often as you can. You generally are welcomed at lunch time for visits. Some schools have extra special days for fathers to visit at lunch--check your child’s school calendar for "fathers day" at lunch.
6) Schools often have "field day" or "Olympics Day"--an all day outside with activities for the children. This event is often family oriented and you try to attend at least a portion of it.