You show up to your child’s school hoping to get the information your ex is unreasonably withholding from you. You just need the information to help your child with homework, or to plan for the next parent-teacher conference. The secretary asks you over and over “whose parent are you?” “are you sure they go to school here?” or they say ” I don’t see you listed here for any child in our school…”
Has this happened to you? You attempt to get information about your child from their school and the school treats you like a complete stranger.
As the school year starts we see many parents having to re-enroll or enroll children in school which requires filling out new paperwork for the schools their children attend.
Often one parent will attempt to use access to the child at school or access to the child’s school information as a pawn in the game of child custody. All parents should be allowed access to information pertaining to their child in school. All parents should be allowed access to information pertaining to school meetings, events and other items. If an order of protection or a restraining order states a parents is not allowed to come near the child or the other parent this may be a different situation and you should speak to your attorney, or an attorney, prior to interfering with school.
BEST PRACTICE: School should be a neutral zone for the child to be able to learn, grow, make friends, play and be free from the stress any custody issues may have on the children. This means for BOTH parents, they should not be trying to have lunch with the child, they should not be trying to meet the child for breakfast and they should not be there to see the child get on the bus if they are not the custodial parent. Neither parent should use school time as parenting time.
However, this DOES NOT MEAN THAT A NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT IS NOT ALLOWED OT HAVE ACCESS TO INFORMATION PERTAINING TO THEIR CHILD.
A FEW GUIDELINES FOR WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO REGARDING SCHOOL INFORMATION DEPENDING ON YOUR SITUATION:
If you are the custodial parent, the one who has custody in a court order, here are a few pieces of advice to help you avoid contempt charges.
- ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, list the other parent on all documents for doctors, schools, dentists, teams, and organizations your child is coming in contact with. If the other parent is not listed you may face trouble with the Family Court. Judge’s often frown upon “leaving off” a parent or “forgetting” to list them. Even if you don’t have all the information you should list at least what information you have. Simply stating you forgot, didn’t know their information, or didn’t think you had to list them is not going to be a good answer in family court. If there is a restriction on the other parent, such as they are not to pick up the child, then list it on the form but you must list them you cannot just leave people out.
- NEVER EVER EVER, list a step- parent or grandparent in the place where the other parent should be listed. There is often a place on the forms to list a third person or additional person who can be contacted. That is where you need to list your spouse and/or grandparents who you might want to include on these forms. You should never substitute your spouse or a step-parent for the biological parent of the child as this is highly frowned upon by the courts.
- BEST PRACTICE TIP: The best practice you can have is to provide the school, health provider or organization with a copy of the Order which is signed by a judge and indicate where it shows what rights each person has. This will help to avoid any issues which may present themselves. This is not required but helps you to avoid future problems.
If you are NOT the custodial parent, the one who does not have primary custody in a court order, here are a few pieces of advice to help you avoid issues with schools, health care providers and organizations and avoid frustration on your party.
- BEST PRACTICE: it is the best practice for you to proactively go to the school, healthcare provider, or organization and provide them with a copy of the court order, introduce yourself and provide them with your current and accurate information. Although this is not always possible, it can show that you are an involved parent, you care and help avoid any issues when the other parent attempts to circumvent your ability to be involved in your child’s live.
- NEVER, EVER, EVER: Expect the other parent to provide your information to anyone. Generally speaking, if you have not gotten along or had issues in the past, they are likely to provide no information at all about you, or even worse provide wrong or misleading information that will eventually cause you more hassle to fix. If ex could work with you on this, you probably wouldn’t be looking at this post.
- TRY NOT TO: Discuss issues regarding the school records in front of the children or with your ex at all if possible. If you and your ex cannot get along regarding the school records it is best not to speak to them about it. If conversation is necessary you should utilize email to keep a record of what is said.
- ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, request the school send an additional copy of everything pertaining to the child to you. You have rights detailed below and may not be able to get a copy of EVERYTHING but you can ask the school to send you an extra copy or an extra folder. The school may charge for this or may only send the bare minimum but at least this is a start and you are not out in the cold any more.
- GOOD IDEAS:
- Contact your child’s teacher directly to discuss when report cards and other important information will be distributed so that you know to request copies. (You may also be able to find this information on a school web site.)
- If your child’s school provides online access for parents, ask for an appropriate access code so that you can stay informed on a regular basis without having to bother the school officials on a regular basis.
- Double check your child’s teacher has your email address and phone number, and update it when there are changes.
- Make sure that your child’s teacher knows that you would like to be notified directly of any changes in your child’s academic performance or behavior, and invited to any school meetings or events involving your student.
A sample letter requesting inspection of a child’s record can be found on my website via this link.
SO WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOUR RIGHTS AS THE NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)gives parents the right to access their child’s records, report cards, standardized test scores, and other pertinent material. This does not mean you have access to everything that happens at school. For example, there is no access for non-custodial parents to the school lunch menu, field trip notices, and school photos. A school does not have to allow you take your child’s file with you anywhere to copy it, or “check out” and leave with your child’s record. Also, the schools will generally not automatically mail everything to the parents, or will charge for mailing items. The school may charge for copies they need to make of things they send you, however, not always. You have rights to your student’s records and should assert those rights. The school has plenty to worry about, and your access to records is not one of the things they are going to concern themselves with unless you let them know it is important to you.
On top of what rights you have as a natural parent, FERPA has carved out certain rights for Non-custodial parents in The Rights of Noncustodial Parents in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Many schools, especially locally, will work to make sure non-custodial parents have access to information, above and beyond what is provided for in FERPA, if they make their desire to be included known to the school officials.
Note: FERPA does not give rights to a parent whose rights have been terminated by a court order. Once your rights are terminated, you can no longer access the child’s records.
If you have more questions about your rights or feel a school or another parent is unreasonably denying you the right to access your child’s information, contact an attorney. The Powers Legal Firm can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, via phone at 843.261.7025 or via our webpage at www.thepowerslegalfirm.com
Summerville’s Family Law and Custody Law Firm