Here’s everything you need to know about your parental rights in public schools


By Meg Flanagan

Minor crisis: You’re moving and will need to register for school, but you don’t have any of Junior’s report cards from the last year.

Major worry: Your spouse works in a top secret or highly dangerous job and you want absolutely zero pictures of your kiddos posted anywhere.

Solved: Once you fill out a few forms, both of these issue can completely disappear for school-aged children. This is thanks in large part to the many, many rights you have as a parent of a child in public schools.

FERPA

The Federal Education and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA) essentially guarantees you access to your child’s academic records. Access doesn’t always mean copies. It just means visual access. Many schools will give you copies of report cards, but they might also charge a small fee. This isn’t unlike requesting medical records from a doctor or dentist.

After reviewing your child’s records, you can request that the school correct discrepancies or misinformation. This could be as benign as the spelling of a middle name to something as serious as removing a disciplinary record. The school does not have to comply, but you could then have a formal hearing to discuss the matter. If the records will still not be changed, you have the right to place a written statement with your views on the issue into the child’s permanent record.

FERPA is also important for safeguarding student privacy. Only legal guardians, biological/adoptive parents, eligible students (18+ or legally emancipated) and designated parties can have access to a child’s records. This means that grades and assessments can’t be publically released or requested by just anyone. It also means that only teachers working directly with your child can see these records.

FERPA also allows your last school to send records, upon your request, to your next school. This eliminates the need to save academic records at home (although you still should keep the most recent report cards handy).

FOIA

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the general public to request information from government agencies. Public schools, including charter schools, are government agencies.

Your FOIA focus can be general (fourth grade; budget) or narrow (fourth grader with red hair; John Smith). The school will then need to turn over all written records pertaining to your request. This can include written notes that have been publicly shared, emails, and digital files. Anything created on a work device, at work or pertaining to work is eligible.

Submitting a FOIA request can allow you to look more closely at the inner workings of a school, teacher, or district. Generally, FOIA requests are used during an investigation or a legal situation to gather evidence.

Media release

Many parents are becoming more conscious than ever about media exposure of children and are working to curb how much is shared and where. Other parents are protecting their children from tense family situations. Still others might be shielding their entire families due to the sensitive nature of a parent’s job. Whatever your reason, you have this right. Your child’s picture does not have to be taken and published.

Every year–or upon enrollment–families are given standard media release forms. By consenting, you are allowing the school to photograph and record your child for publication online, on social media, and in-print media. You are allowing your child to be identified by name, grade, and school. You do not have to sign. You can change your consent at any time.

If you choose not to sign the media release form, your child will not be able to be individually photographed and identified in any way on any platform. There might still be group or long distance shots that contain your child’s image, but good faith efforts will be made to exclude your child from those as well.

Medication

Many children are coming to school with medications these days. From allergies to behavioral meds to antibiotics, the school nurse has given it all. But the nurse cannot dose your child without your express written consent and possibly documentation from a medical professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant).

To allow your child to take medication during the day, you should bring the medication in the original packaging to the nurse along with any prescriptions and the medication consent form. (Please do not send your kiddo to school with pain medicine in their bag. Other children might take it, the meds might shared, or the wrong dosage taken.)

Many states in the country now have implied legal consent to administer EpiPens or epinephrine to children who seem to be having a severe allergic reaction. Laws were enacted to stock emergency EpiPens following the deaths of students from allergic reactions who did not have EpiPens prescribed. If you 100% do not want your child to receive an EpiPen, you will need to register that with the school nurse upon enrollment.

Be sure to update the medication consent forms and supporting documents regularly.

Special education

You have all of the rights! (Hooray!) And they are a little complicated. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Individualized Education Plan (IEP): A federal legal document that spells out a unique learning plan for your child. All parts of this plan must be adhered to all of the time; regular updates on progress must be made. IEPs are reviewed annually and completely reevaluated every three years. IEPs are available for students in preschool through high school.

504 Plan: Federal law under section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It guarantees equal access to the general academic curriculum and buildings that receive federal funding. This means that the actual teaching style can’t be changed, but supports can be put in place to allow students to learn with their peers. Supports can include large print books, ramps, Braille machines, etc. This is enforceable throughout life, including college.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Your child is guaranteed the right to learn in best place possible, with their peers as much as possible. The LRE is determined based on a combination of your student’s academic and intellectual abilities, the supports available and what the IEP stipulates.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Your child is guaranteed a free education is the most appropriate setting possible at the cost of the school district. This could mean that your child is taught fully in the general education setting or placed in a specialized school on the other end of the spectrum.

Outplacement: Students who exceed the supports provided by the school (LRE) or who cannot be given FAPE in the public school will be outplaced at the cost of the public school district at a facility that better meets their needs. Parents who are concerned about this can request that outplacement be considered for their child; you will need to provide proof that this is required. The school can deny parent requests and parents can appeal denials. Schools can also recommend outplacement, which parents can deny.

Assessments: Parents are legally able to request special education assessment at any time. However, you must provide a written notice of the request and be very specific about what you want to test and why. Schools may deny such requests; parents may appeal those denials and seek second opinions at their own cost.

The Takeaway

You, as parents, have a ton of awesome rights in public schools. As military families, you need to know about these rights and use them. Knowledge is power, and it helps you get your kids a better education.

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