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By Leslie Marion
In No Child Left Behind – Part One, I discussed how schools interpret child custody orders and issues that arise surrounding them. Often times, issues arise before a custody order or separation agreement has been entered at all. In those situations, it is important for parents to remain aware of how schools make decisions. There is no requirement that a school verifies with courts or the other parent the status of a custody order or parenting agreement before enrolling a child. Thus, if a parent represents to the school that the child lives with that parent, schools generally grant the enrollment request. Sometimes, schools simply assume that a child lives with the parent who presents the child for enrollment without asking any additional questions with regard to custody. Even when custody disputes arise that involve the school (i.e., which parent is allowed to pick up the child from school), schools are generally reluctant to limit either parent’s right to parent his or her child. Schools typically grant rights according to the parent(s) listed on the child’s birth certificate on file unless a court orders otherwise.
Another common issue in the absence of a custody order is a parent’s right to school-related documents. In the absence of a custody order, schools adhere to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) of 1974. This act requires schools to maintain the confidentiality of student records and sets forth standards for handling records. Generally, FERPA requires schools to provide each parent with equal access to their child’s school records. However, the term “records” under FERPA only applies to general information in a student’s overall file, such as attendance records, grading and promotion data, and notice of any long-term disciplinary action. Thus, if a child takes home a graded term paper or an art project and that parent refuses to share the paper or project with the other parent, FERPA will likely be of little help. Only those documents or records the school keeps on file, would fall under the realm of FERPA.
While I’ve provided an overview of how schools treat child custody situations, individual school districts typically have their own policies for dealing with such situations. I encourage divorcing parents to get familiar with these policies to understand any possible implications. Familiarity with school policies can allow orders and agreements to be drafted in a more practical, comprehensive manner so that no child is left behind.
If you have any questions or would like more information on this topic, please contact attorney Leslie Marion at 919.250.2239 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.