The kids are back in school and you are beginning to settle into the new routine. But are you missing out on your rights as a parent? Find out what every parent should know about custody, schools, and their rights this school year.
Whether you are part of a nuclear family with 2.5 kids, have a blended family with step- and half-siblings, or are a weekend parent with only limited visitation, your child’s school is going to be part of your life. Here are some ways that you can protect your rights while dealing with the school.
You Have the Right to Information About Your Child’s Education
Many people, including many school administrators, believe that a person has to have legal custody of a child to receive educational or medical information about his or her child. This is false. Losing legal custody is not the same thing as losing your parental rights. Legal custody is the right to make decisions about your child’s life – including his or her education. Getting information is part of a person’s inherent rights as a parent. Unless you have gone to probate or juvenile court had had your parental rights terminated, you can request information about your child from his or her school or doctor. If you are simply a non-custodial parent, you may obtain information, but you can’t give the school directions about your child’s education.
The School Should Know Your Custody Arrangement
Many parents want to keep their custody arrangements private. They don’t want teachers, principals, or neighbors to know about what happens in court. But by keeping this information a secret, especially in high-conflict cases, you could be putting your child at risk. If your co-parent has joint legal custody, he or she may have the authority to remove your child from school. Unless the school has a copy of your custody arrangement on file, administrators won’t know whether your co-parent has the authority to pick your child up on any given day. To keep your children safe, send a copy of each order for parenting time or visitation to your child’s school. Then instruct the administrators to only release your child to the parent with visitation on a given day unless the other parent consents to the pick up.
You Have the Right to an IEP Meeting Every Year
A growing number of students have developmental delays or learning disabilities that require special education. But federal law requires public schools to provide special education to every child based on his or her Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Needs change. As your child grows and matures, and as doctors implement different treatments, your student’s educational needs may change. IEPs are supposed to be updated annually, but many schools try to shortcut the system by applying the same IEP year after year. When that happens, a parent with legal custody may send a written request for assessment. Once received, your child’s school only has a limited time to respond and provide your child with necessary assessments and services.
Being a parent in today’s modern educational setting often means wearing the hats of advocate, protector, and detective. Don’t assume your school is doing what is best for your child. Be diligent. Make sure the school knows to provide you with information, properly enforce visitation schedules, and perform regular IEP hearings. If you don’t your child’s education, and even his or her safety could be on the line.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. If you are facing a custody or parenting time dispute, contact Schmidt Law Services today to schedule a free consultation.