It can sometimes seem like schools are the exclusive realm of the teachers and administrators who work there. With all the jargon, results-based teaching methods, and security, school can be intimidating.
Parents, and guardians, actually have a ton of legal rights when it comes to the education of their children.
Today, let’s learn about your parental rights in school.
Many parents don’t realize how much control and say they have over their child’s education. Most of these rights are backed up by federal laws and statutes.
The Freedom of Information Act is a federal law that makes it possible for anyone to request information that is owned or collected by government agencies. Great, that’s perfect if I want stats on parking tickets in Ohio, but how does it help me at school?
Well, public schools are part of local and state government agencies. Namely, the department of education. As a part of a government agency, many records are able to be accessed with a FOIA request.
Now, not all records are accessible. Generally, public meetings, communication related to work, and shared notes are able to be requested. Things you won’t be able to access include: personally identifiable information (PII), legal documents, education plans and placements. Each state and school district has slightly different rules and restrictions.
Parents might want to use a FOIA request to find out about:
- teacher/district salaries
- minutes of school/district meetings
- whether their child has been unethically discussed in electronic communications
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects student information and controls access to this information. This act does not apply to private elementary and secondary schools, just public K-12 schools and private or public colleges and universities.
FERPA states that parents have the right to:
- inspect and review the student’s record maintained by the school
- request that this record be amended
- consent in writing to the disclosure of PII, except in several specific circumstances
- file a complaint should FERPA be violated
It is important to note that FERPA provides “parental rights” to both natural or adoptive parents, step-parents who are present on a day-to-day basis, and grandparents or legal guardians. The right of a biological parent to view records only ends with a court order.
FERPA is the law that helps military families as they transition schools, through the right to inspect and review student records.
These two laws apply to ALL publicly educated students in the US. However, FOIA and FERPA may not be followed at private schools since these are non-government agencies.
Special education has its own set of parental rights and roles. For parents of children receiving services through an IEP or a 504 Plan, it is vital that you learn these rights and use them in the best interest of your child.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 governs how ALL Individualized Education Plans are created and carried out in the US. IEPs are a legal document changing the nature of the education program, and parents are heavily involved at every level and stage.
First, you have the right to request that your child is evaluated for special education services. This means that you, in writing, can contact the school or district and ask for specific assessments to be performed to determine if your child qualifies for an IEP. You must also give written permission for your child to be evaluated for special education services when requested by the school.
Second, you have the right to be informed of any and all test results. This includes written plans for Response to Intervention Programs that the school is using to help students outside of the special education system.
When it comes to the actual IEP process you have the following rights:
- a full, understandable explanation of all/any portion of the proceedings and results
- a review of your child’s record
- participate in any/all meetings involving the identification, evaluation, and placement of your child
- receive prior written notice of all meetings, deadlines, and potential changes to your child’s IEP
- obtain an independent education evaluation (IEE) or second opinion regarding their child’s diagnosis or assessments
- give or deny their consent to any changes made to their child IEP
- to disagree with a decision made by the school which impacts their child’s IEP
- to use the IDEA processes to resolve disputes
Should you have concerns or feel like a little extra support would benefit you, you also have the right to retain an advocate or legal counsel. These individuals help to provide additional legal guidance, in the case of a lawyer, and/or educational insights and recommendations, in the case of an advocate.
There are actually so many parental rights and responsibilities involved in the special education process that we’ll devote a whole post to it at a later date. So stay tuned!
504 Plans are educational plans designed to help students with disabilities or learning differences WITHOUT changing the actual curriculum. This is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is in turn part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Essentially, this law provides changes (accommodations) to the educational environment, not the curriculum, in order to provide equal access for all students.
Just like an IEP, parents must give consent for their child to be evaluated for and placed on a 504 Plan. Most often, this consent is required in writing to create a paper trail for legal protection purposes.
Often, students who fail to qualify for an IEP do qualify for a 504 Plan and all of the planning and agreeing will happen at the IEP evaluation meeting. In this case, parents have already received prior written consent to evaluate and potentially create and education plan for the student. In other situations, prior notification and consent is required before schools proceed with the evaluation process.
Like an IEP, you have all the rights bestowed upon you by FERPA, as well as the rights to retain counsel (lawyer/advocate), to disagree with the school’s plan, to give or refuse your consent to the plan, and to request an impartial hearing to resolve disputes.
It is important to remember that IDEA and Section 504 most commonly apply to students being educated in the public school system or who received services at any educational institution which received federal funding (mostly colleges and universities). In many cases, students education in private or homeschool setting may qualify for limited IEP services. Please check your local and state laws to determine what your child qualifies for!
So, you as parents have a TON of legal rights when it comes to your child’s education! So use them! Be the best advocate for your child, or hire someone with knowledge and experience to help you. Need help? Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org