Parent Observation in the Classroom? Yes!

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To paraphrase Jane Austen… it is a truth universally acknowledged that parental involvement supports positive student outcomes.

But does ‘parental involvement’ extend to parents coming into the school to observe their child in his or her school setting?

The answer is yes! 

A parent’s right to observe his or her child during the school day is supported by federal law.  This applies to all students, in regular and special education alike.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently reauthorized as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states:

Section 8101 Definitions

(39) PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT- The term ‘parental involvement’ means the participation of parents in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities, including ensuring —

(A) that parents play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning;

(B) that parents are encouraged to be actively involved in their child’s education at school;

(C) that parents are full partners in their child’s education and are included, as appropriate, in decision making and on advisory committees to assist in the education of their child;

(D) the carrying out of other activities, such as those described in Section 1116.

Section 1116 Parent and Family Engagement

(d) SHARED RESPONSIBILITIES FOR HIGH STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

[…] each school served under this part shall jointly develop with parents for all children served under this part a school-parent compact. […] Such compact shall —


(2) address the importance of communication between teachers and parents on an ongoing basis through, at a minimum —

(A) parent-teacher conferences in elementary schools, at least annually, during which the compact shall be discussed as the compact relates to the individual child’s achievement;

(B) frequent reports to parents on their children’s progress; and

(C) reasonable access to staff, opportunities to volunteer and participate in their child’s class, and observation of classroom activities [boldface added]; and

(D) ensuring regular two-way, meaningful communication between family members and school staff, and to the extent practicable, in a language that family members can understand.

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Sophie lives in upstate New York, and is the parent of a child with Tourette Syndrome.  You can find her on the web at NY-Span.org, New York – Special Education Action Network.

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64 Comments on "Parent Observation in the Classroom? Yes!"

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What is the definition of “family” in ESSA Section 1116?

I have a young 1st grader and my requests to me seem simple. My biggest issue is communication and now the teacher and support for my little guy. I was just told I can’t walk my son into the classroom in the morning prior to the bell ringing for school to start without prior notification via email. I feel this is a violation of my rights. If my son happens to be tired one day or just needs me to walk him into class vs just dropping him off at school I feel I should be able to walk him into the classroom that day. She taught middle school for 5 years and it’s her first year teaching 1st grade.

Are they allowed to confiscate your cell phone when doing so can’t they just ask the parents to turn the cell phones off and put away in their purse or pocket?

This would depend on state law, & district policy.

I have asked to observe my child in resource room, to see why her work was not being completed. I was advised due to privacy reasons, they cannot allow that. So just to make sure I am understanding. I would be allowed in my child’s resource room, with given notice?

You should be allowed to, but the school may have policies that effect this. See http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/ferpa.osep.observe.htm

My son is autistic in new york. I was told I can not stay in the classroom while other students are in classroom with my child because I had to ask the other students parents who weren’t there for permission for me to stay. is this true? They literally made me feel uncomfortable welcome and wanted me to leave my son in school crying or take him home, so I took my son home. I had an appointment to get an apple device for my son to speak which I attended. The interview was outside the classroom, my son walked by and saw me and started crying, so I just wanted to calm him down for 5 minutes. The teacher told me I had to ask the principal if I can sit in the classroom because the principal said by law I can’t sit in the classroom with the other students there that I would have to ask the other parents for permission for me to stay. the teacher started to get my son’s things for me to take him home with the principal standing at the door waiting to escort me out the building. so uncomfortable and embarrassing. is this the law?

My child has a 504 plan and i am having issues with his teacher. Can I the parent sit in the classroom to observe. I am in Seminole County Florida. PLEASE HELP

Each district should have written policy on when observations are allowed, for how long, etc. Sometimes the policy allows each campus to set up their procedures on observations.

Has the right to observe been tested in court? Does it apply to private schools?

Does this also apply to riding or going onto the bus? To either see how the child sits, behavior or just retrieving your child when they fall asleep and a para can’t wake him up. I’m asking as just this week the special ed coordinator decided noone is allowed on special ed bus only. Basicly stopping parents from stepping onto their students bus.

If I understand your question, you want to know if you have a right to observe your child on the school bus.

One thing we teach parents and school staff is to pick your battles wisely. Don’t try to micromanage your child’s education. As a parent, you can’t control everything that happens to your child during the school day. I wouldn’t advise you to get into a battle about a right to observe your child on the bus. You will have a hard time persuading anyone that you need to do this. The school staff and decision-makers are likely to view you as overprotective – and that’s not the image you want.

You don’t say your child is danger – and if he is, you need to call the police.

I didn’t realize that a parent could observe their child during class on school days. I can see how this can be important since it could be used to decide if the environment is right for the child as well as helping the parent know their child is getting the education they need. I would want to make sure the school also has a good safety system in place to make sure the students are free from harm’s way.

We’re lucky I’m able to volunteer in both classroom and playground, the opportunities become scarce recently but it’s not directed towards me I think. The wall we run into, on the other hand, is the length of the observation. We request our private psychologist to come to campus and observe. Early we were able to schedule one observation for 45-60min, now 9mo later, when we ask for another observation setup (new school year we want to know how he adjusts), we were told our psychologist can only observe 20min max. because the school is short of admin who need to accompany psychologist. I’m not sure with my options, play the hard ball with the school, citing all the law and code, but jeopardize my volunteer opportunities? Or asking for, for example, three 20min observation sessions?

Our son has Down Syndrome and apraxia and is in a Special Day Class. He is non-verbal and communication manifests as behaviors when he is not understood. He just entered middle school. For the past two years, his behaviors have been under control and he has been able to work on and meet goals (great behaviorist). At his elementary school, the principal and teacher welcomed us on campus and readily communicated with us with our son’s behavior and when he was having an off day. In middle school, they tell us we can only visit with a 24 hour notice, only for one hour, and we must be accompanied by a district rep. We are familiar with 42 US Code…, but believe there is some gray area re. observing the classroom. Can we just drop in? Thanks

I suppose the law Sue found (see below) would apply here.

In general, however, my personal opinion is that, in the interests of reducing contentiousness, and ensuring that I can observe my child in school, I am willing to make an appointment for an observation. If that is a hardship for you, or I’m missing something, please write another comment.

Parents who “drop in” from my experience as a para are never welcomed. You want to collaborate and not put the district and you at odds. It is only common courtesy for many reasons and I think the principal is acting appropriately. In this day and age, “drops in” are never advised in my opinion in any building with kids. Our society has moved beyond “drop ins” due to safety reasons and privacy.

deeplyconcernedparent

I had this exact same question. I am friends with a para who has alerted me to a problem with my child’s spec ed teacher. She said that I should make an unscheduled visit to catch her in the act. However, another friend who is a para in another school said that I might be arrested if I do that. Is that true?

I have to say that as the parent of a small child in spec ed, who has deep concerns about my child, I do favor unexpected drop ins. If you have to make an appointment with the teacher first, you are allowing that teacher the opportunity to alter their behavior in anticipation of your visit. You will not be able to walk in and catch the worrying behavior in the act if you make an appointment first! This protects the teacher and not the child.

I find your reasoning having a very valid point. I can’t discredit the need for safety precautions concerning “drop ins” however making a formal appointment is definitely tampering with a fair assessment for parents seeking an authentic finding.

I have been given the state law regarding loitering on school grounds after asking to observe my child in the school setting. I offered to volunteer and was told I could at another school only. This was during elementary school. Now my child is in high school and I am trying to volunteer again but so far no one wants my help. I am afraid that I will be arrested on ridiculous charges but my child just began 9th grade and he sits alone at lunch and has no social support at school.

I’m sorry that this is happening to you. Have you tried talking to the school district?

I have been wondering for some time what recourse a parent has when a district’s board of education enacts a policy that goes against federal or state law or regulation. This sounds like such a case.

For the specific problem you’re describing (lunch), I have a couple of ideas about things to try:
1 – time some of your visits to the school to fall during lunchtime, and plan your route through the cafeteria, so you can get a feel for what’s happening.
2 – ask for specific social/behavioral supports — you can try the social worker, the lunchroom supervisors, the principal, the assoc. principal
3 – contact a classroom teacher your child knows and likes, and ask him or her to host a small lunch bunch in his or her classroom once a week (to get things unstuck).

I personally have not met with success with idea #2, but I have had some limited success with ideas #1 and #3.

The 9th grade year of high school is not an easy transition. Instead of wanting to observe, get him involved more. Involvement in extracurriculars is key in high school. Find out what activities may work for your son. Work with the club advisor to informally mentor your son to join. Join the PTA and go to meetings–another option! Work with the counselor and see if your son will start a club of his interest area. The solution for you may not be to observe but to “involve” him more as high school is very different and one wants a peer group. There are so many clubs in high school–and he can start his own with the guidance of a teacher. Look at the school website and go to the games, social events, club events, participate in community service. Make his presence known.

Hello my name is Tania and I too am trying very hard with my son’s school to be able to observe and assist him in areas of subjects where he is weak. By doing so I need to be there in order to understand the instruction. It took me 6 years and going to seek advice from an attorney just to get the school to test him for sp ed. I am not interested in paying more money than what I already invest into the school for another Club. I am interested in being able to assist my son in his academics. Would like an understanding as to why observing and assisting my son based on what I learn during his class sessions is not allowed.

I am in a desperate situation and need an answer. I am aware of the laws stated however, does the applications of these laws change at all when it comes to schools with a closed campus policy? I have registered as a volunteer with their approval but now are telling me I am not allowed because they have decided to enforce their closed campus policy.

I’m not sure what to say because I can think of several different meanings of “closed campus”, including a rule that says students may not leave campus at lunchtime without signed parental permission. (I personally am in favor of such a policy because I have found that it helps discourage drug use during the school day.)

Please feel free to write in again with the specific language your district has adopted.

It was told to me as I was attempting to walk my son to class. Do to my 1st grader having developmental delays and behavior disturbance the frequently complain about him crying and not complying. They had no solutions so I became a volunteer in order to stay at the school and come to the class as needed. They have now refused to allow me to take him to class or the cafeteria for drop off (only pre-k allowed), stay at the school or observe in my son’s class. Hope that helps.

deeplyconcernedparent

One thing that may help is to join the PTA, & go to the meetings. Ask the PTA president if she needs volunteers in the cafeteria at lunchtime. I know that my daughter’s school is always looking for parents to help monitor in the cafeteria at lunch, but we volunteer through PTA. My daughter’s school is also a closed campus. Everybody must be buzzed in through the door to enter thee building.

I’m not sure if altering his IEP to allow you to help him on school grounds is a possibility. You might want to get in touch with Families Helping Families & ask one of the advocates if they think it might be possible. FHF told me yesterday that I could have my daughter’s IEP altered to say that she must have a peer escort her.

Another federal law allows the parents or guardians of anyone with a developmental disability to observe that person, unannounced, in any institution (including schools) that receive federal funds. Specifically, it is 42 U.S. Code § 15009, section (3)(B)(v). I think it is part of ADA.

Thank you so much for sharing that! Bless you.

That law does not permit classroom observations. It permits you to see your developmentally disabled child at school. They can bring your student to the main office or entrance and be in compliance.

What do you think teachers are hiding from you?
It’s not just an issue about your child, it’s an issue about other student’s right to privacy and about a classroom’s right to a leaning environment free of distractions ( and yes, parents in the classroom are a distraction)

@JCap Good question – This past year, I was not kept informed of behaviours that negatively affected my twins’ educational success. I had sent out several emails requesting notice of behavioural changes due to medical concerns; and, the same teachers who failed to answer were the same teachers who were not concerned with following our Plan or why my children were failing over several semesters.
Some times it’s not “hiding” that is the worry, but lack of care. What teacher is above following Federal and State rules and regs? NONE…and, we all know there are teachers who still believe they can do as they will. As long as those teachers (and their administrators) exist, then you will have pro-active parents involved in your classroom. Adjust.

It seems “certain” parents only are allowed to help in class and at recess. There are always parents running around the school. It only seems that parents who have special needs students are prevented from observing. Why is that? INEQUITY.

I observed my daughter every year until about 11th grade. Inevitably, I learned things that I would not have known had I not observed. In first grade, I found out her para was acting as a “bodyguard” and no one spoke to my daughter the entire day except the para. The para also could not speak understandable English, yet she was the one giving my daughter her spelling tests! At other times, I was able to give little tips to the teacher that made her life a lot easier. Every-time, I saw who I wanted to ask over for a playdate.
My rule for parents is – “You are a fly on the wall. Don’t try to talk to the teacher, para, or other students. An observation is not a parent conference.”
Also, the Supreme Court decided that public school students do not have an expectation of privacy.

I am a parent as well as a teacher and I always welcome parents to visit. There is no fear nor concern of interrupting my ability to teach. We cannot promote an idea of collaboration and cohesion and be unwilling to provide parents opportunities to gain the knowledge and experiences that their child receives in order to support them at home. If their visit is such a distraction, then Administration, Instructional coaches, evaluators, and the like present an immensely stressful disruption, particularly when they question students about their learning while critiquing my instructional practices. Most parents know to maintain a very limited presence so as to not disrupt the learning environment. Parents are our partners not enemies. And for the record, I teach in a Title I school.

Terri,
It sounds like you all have a great system of collaboration at your school. I have been in Title I schools and suburban schools. Sometimes, that collaboration does not work due to the dynamics of a teacher, parent, administrators, etc. Some parents are intrusive and yes even have caused problems approaching other kids inappropriately acting in the role of the teacher. Some parents are adversarial.You are right, teachers are critiqued often and it is a disruption and indeed stressful to the teacher and I would say some students. My children had a few teachers like you and it was a pleasant experience. I did not have to observe because the teacher was very collaborative. In this day of violence, unpredictable behaviors, etc., visits should be carefully structured and monitored.

Since NCLB no longer exists, where does this law live now?

To download the “Every Student Succeeds Act” from Wrightslaw, click here: http://www.wrightslaw.com/essa/essa.391pages.pdf

The law is also available from the US Dept of Ed. I don’t have that link.

Here is the link you need: http://legcounsel.house.gov/Comps/Elementary%20And%20Secondary%20Education%20Act%20Of%201965.pdf

Thanks so much for posting your question. Your comment gave me the push I needed to revise my guest post.

I wanted to enroll my daughter into the early intervention program in our public school district. They site privacy issues and that I would disrupt the classroom. Have they ever heard of an observation window??? They only offer observation of the teacher working with your child when there are no other children present. I asked for a tour of the school-(I have no idea what kind of environment I would be putting my child in)-again, only after children have gone. Even went so far as telling me that I am the only parent out of 14,500 special needs students that made an issue over this and let it be known they think I’m being difficult and ridiculous to even ask to see her classroom environment. Are we as special needs parents really not fighting this policy???

My children attend a private parochial school. I requested an opportunity to either volunteer or observe my daughter in her classroom but the school said they do not allow that. Does this law also apply to private schools or just public? I wonder if the school is violating Federal Law…. I appreciate your feedback. Thank you!

How often can a parent “observe” and can the school limit the amount of time a parent “observes.” Can a parent be denied “volunteering” in a classroom of their special needs child?

Our district is working on a specific policy now. As a school psych I encourage parents to observe or (even better) volunteer in the class. However, we are asking for advance notice, particularly for our self-contained behavior program. Visitors barging in without any warning really sets things off for a lot of our kids.

I’d be concerned about boundary issues and potential disruption caused by clasroom observations by parents. I think observations by professionals can be appropriate for evaluation or re-evaluation purposes, but regular visits by parents in the classroom can be problematic for other students. I always encourage parents to have frequent contact with teachers and staff. If there are concerns about what the educators are reporting vs what the student is saying, I think an exception can be made, but with limits spelled out in advance.

Your obviously a gate keeper and have a superior type attitude that parents ought to defer to teachers–wrong!

Re read the article as it dispels your assertions. It’s this kind of attitude that lets teachers think they always know better and that parents just get in the way.

What Art is saying is in order to keep his job, he must be play by the rules of administration. I’ve observed on many occasions and it wasn’t disruptive at all. Parents are told structured environments are one way and come to find out, they are chaotic and disruptive to other students within the classroom. With Art stating rely on the teachers is concerning. Advanced notice gives parents limited opportunities to really see what a typical day is for their child. Not only are staff notified, but the students are as well. Fortunately for myself, I observed frequently enough to where the students got to know me and acted as if I weren’t there. I really got to see the entire picture and the not the one that was painted beforehand-amazing to find out the difference between the two!!!

@lele you’ve hit the nail on the head. Any teacher/administration that seeks to prevent parents’ review of their classroom programs raise a red flag. If one is conducting themselves and their staff appropriately, then there should be nothing to hide. There are not enough (if any) State school visits to enforce proper procedures. It is a Parent’s responsibility to make sure the procedures set for their child(ren) are being enforced on a consistent and regular basis. Example: My visit noted the administration of High School children’s medications, inclusive of Level 3 (narcotic) medications, were NOT safely stored or distributed per HIPPA rules/regs. Civil Rights and DEA rules and regs were violated daily. Until my involvement, nothing would have changed. Don’t assume, get involved!

1. HIPAA has nothing to do with medication distribution
2. HIPAA does not apply to schools FERPA does.

Having successfully worked with OCR on behalf of my children this school year, I can assure you that both HIPPA (involving medication issues) and FERPA both apply in School settings.

So sad you have had the experience of teachers thinking they are superior and always know better. As both a parent of a child with special needs as well as a teacher of 30 years of children with special needs, I can tell you that it is my belief that parents are an integral part of their child’s education and that as part of the team it is very difficult to my job without your help. I can also tell you that obviously a teacher thinking she/he knows best is not acting as a part of a team.

I have had many, many wonderful parents who have visited my room as well as parents who I hope can assist me with getting the assistance I need that sadly as a teacher I have little to no power to get on my own.

Part 2

I also must say that not every visiting parent is respectful of another child’s privacy. Questions are asked regarding diagnosis, level of functioning of a particular child, behavior, etc. Questions are asked during instructional time and parents engage in noisy conversation while my children are attempting to work. Parents can most definitely be disruptful, particularly when visiting very young students who can no longer concentrate as they don’t understand why Mommy or Daddy is leaving and not taking them with them.

So, just as there are many parents and teachers who are team players there are those who are not. Please don’t assume we are all evil – teachers or parents.

My parents for the most part respect my requests regarding visitation and I am thankful for help!

“Reasonable access” is the term that catches my eye. Our district has a set procedure/standard. This standard is brought out when needed, to prevent disruption of other students learning. There is such a fine line between parents being informed, and parents helicoptering. As a teacher I encourage parents to visit, but if it becomes a daily disruptive event, then it takes away from other students learning.

I am a psychotherapist. The privacy rights of people in therapy is very different from the rights of children who attend public schools.

When I work with a child, I consult with the parent regularly. I would not allow a parent to observe a therapy session.

As you state “very different”…you can’t compare Apples/Oranges. A viewing window would serve the purpose without disruption, no appointment scheduling needed.

Unsure how the listing of your (and others) credentials really mean in making a point, but I’ll list mine if requested.

Stacy, my understanding is FERPA applies to the privacy of education records, not observations. http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html

Trust is a byproduct of transparency. School districts distort the facts. The resulting sentiment is “What are you really hiding?” Why can a general education parent come into a classroom to bring cupcakes, or be a guest reader and not a parent of a special needs child? Does district policy override the law? I don’t think so!

I agree, my 10 year old has not even had homework written in his agenda in months and when I asked what he was doing in school or why we had no homework they sent me home a packet the same 10 worksheets copied 5 times each then never taken out of his bag @ school. and although he has had some issues to get him half days the school could not even adapt to that to give him math lessons beyond December and still want to pass him into 5th grade like this year never happened. Is common sense extinct? they wont let me observe, they want to transfer him because I asked them to use that when I told them sternly that all kids need math to live beyond school.

@Jimmy, sadly common sense has left the School building in favour of “less work on us”. The proactive parent is not a friend to the School. You point out what Best Practices prove works (usually the first is “Consistency”); and, even though the School violates Federal and State laws, what are YOU as an over-whelmed parent going to do? Save yourself grief and turn this over to OCR & your State’s Education Agency. Make sure you have all copies, notes, pertinent information in a notebook–get a friend’s help to compile if necessary. And, let the higher powers deal with the people who are not providing your child a way to educational success. Wishing you and your child the best!

Yes!!

What about observation in a group therapy setting? My district has repeatedly stated that due to FERPA and confidentiality, I cannot observe my child in a group therapy setting.

if the child is under 18 I fully agree, with todays cameras cant we manage that. and it is a “group” but the parent cant be angered if kid says some thing they don’t like. The child needs to feel secure to be honest in therapy at the same time, that’s why the video or audio is essential. and imagine that kid blowing your mind and maybe you can see what may need to change in ourselves as parents. we may not like it at first but we all can learn from them as they can from us.

Bum. Could we please get an expert to answer this question? We’re hearing the same thing from our District.

As a classroom teacher in elementary school, I valued the active involvement of parents – even if for a short time on a single day to volunteer to hear a few children read. These parents were in the classroom and observing the class in action. Other students just regarded these parents as ‘helpers’ and were not distracted. However, quid pro quo – in my classrooms everyone is an active participant – there are no spectators. all parents appreciated the ability to contribute as well as to see what was going on. The children seemed to appreciate that people wanted to help them and the children of these parents really benefit from seeing parent and teacher working together for them.

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