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Answers to Questions about Parent Observations, Privacy & Confidentiality

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Does the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provide a right for parents to observe their children's classrooms or proposed placements?

Does the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibit a parent from observing their child in a special or regular classroom?

Background

The Education Law Center - PA asked the United States Department of Education to provide an opinion about whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees parents and their representatives a reasonable opportunity to observe their children's classrooms and proposed placement options.

The position of the Education Law Center was that "a school district's refusal to allow parents and their professional representatives to observe their children in a special education classroom violates the parents' rights under the IDEA to be full and equal participants in the development of an appropriate individualized education program (IEP) for their children."

The Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSEP) replied. 

Family Policy Compliance Office (December 8, 2003)

Question Asked: Does FERPA prohibit a parent of a child with disabilities, or a professional working with a parent of a child with disabilities, from observing the child in a special or regular education classroom?

The Director of the Family Policy Compliance Office responded:

"FERPA does not specifically prohibit a parent or professional working with the parent from observing the parent's child in the classroom ...

"FERPA would generally prohibit a teacher from disclosing information from a child's education records to other students in the classroom ... [and] prohibit a teacher from disclosing information from a child's education records to the parents of another child who might be observing the classroom.

"Further, FERPA does not protect the confidentiality of information in general; rather, FERPA applies to the disclosure of tangible records and of information derived from tangible records."

Read the full text of the letter from the Director of the Family Compliance Office at
http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/osep/ferpa.classrm.observe.pdf

Office of Special Education Programs (May 26 2004)

Question Asked: Does the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantee parents and their representatives a reasonable opportunity to observe their children's classrooms and proposed placement options?

A portion of OSEP's response follows:

"One of the key purposes of the IDEA Amendments of 1997 is to strengthen and expand the roles of parents in the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of their child.

"Neither the statute nor the regulations implementing the IDEA provide a general entitlement for parents or their professional representatives, to observe their children in any current classroom or proposed educational placement.

"However, we encourage school district personnel and parents to work together in ways that meet the needs of both parents and the school, including providing opportunities for parents to observe their children's classrooms and proposed placement options. (emphasis added by Wrightslaw)

"In addition, there may be circumstances in which access may need to be provided. For example, if parents invoke their right to an independent educational evaluation of their child, and the evaluation requires observing the child in the educational placement, the evaluator may need to be provided with access to the placement."

Read the full text of the letter from the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs at
http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/osep/idea.classrm.observe.pdf

Summary

The confidentiality requirements in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) relate to education records and do not prohibit parental observations of the classroom.

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA 97 and IDEA 2004) emphasize strengthening the parental role and expanding the rights of parents to be active participants in decisions about their child's educational programs and placements.

Although the IDEA does not include a specific right for a parent to observe their child's classroom or proposed placement, the U. S. Department of Education "encourages school district personnel and parents to work together in ways that meet the needs of both, including opportunities for parents to observe their children's classrooms and proposed placement options."

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Recommended Resource: The Education Law Center

The Education Law Center (ELC) is a legal advocacy organization. The staff provides information on the legal rights of public school students, help with problem-solving, written materials, and contacts.

Visit The Education Law Center site for publications, manuals, reports, and fact sheets on many topics of interest: special education, discipline, early intervention, charter schools and children with disabilities, evaluations, IEPs and placements, transition, procedural safeguards, needs of English language learners, foster care and juvenile justice, school funding, school improvement,

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Revised: 09/14/08
Created: 03/20/06



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