Can Parents Observe Children’s Classrooms & Placements?

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Do I have a right to observe the class before agreeing (or not agreeing) to a placement for my child? The special ed director said I cannot observe the class because of confidentiality issues with the other children.

Some schools take the position that parents and/or their representatives cannot observe a child in the classroom because this would violate the privacy of other children.

Do all public school students have privacy rights? Do children with disabilities have different privacy rights that require schools to educate them in secret?

Does the 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 parents or their professional representatives from observing a child in a special education or regular classroom?

What do you think?

For answers to these and other questions about confidentiality and student privacy (and useful strategies if you encounter this problem), read Parent Observations v. Student Confidentiality by Pete and Pam Wright at

You’ll also learn about parental rights to observe your child’s classroom from an unexpected source – the No Child Left Behind Act!

Recommended Resource: In response to requests from the Education Law Center, the U. S. Department of Education clarified parental observations of children under the IDEA and student confidentiality under FERPA.

Read Answers to Questions about Parent Observations, Privacy and Confidentiality from the U.S. Dept of Ed at

  1. My child’s teacher called one day (not the 1st time ) was having trouble with my kid. i went and asked for principal and got the assist. let him listen to my voice message from teacher and asked if i can go and make sure my kid does his work. the assist principal said no, that i might be a distraction to the other kids. but will let my kid come to office so i can do work with my kid. is this not a right- were i can go and observe the teacher without notice? i live in nc.

  2. Is the right to observe or be in the classroom exclusive of parents with children with disabilities or are regular students parents have the same right to be in there? If so, what is this law? I have been looking for it but I can not find it. Thanks

  3. my daughter is acting out in classroom and not paying attention for some time. i need to observe her behavior so i can be the one to take her to doctor and get her some counseling but i have to know and see what is going on instead of a teacher telling me this. i have been told by the school i cannot observe due to the privacy of the other students. what can i do now? is there a law in oklahoma? thanks so much

  4. Dianne – Sounds like discrimination to me. Get some parents and meet with the school to find out if they have a written policy on this item for children with and without disabilities. It should be easy to pursue discrimination. If they do not have a policy they most likely are out of compliance and you can file a complaint with the state.

  5. Jan 2009 Mass legislature amended section 3 of G.L. c. 71B, the state of Mass special education law, to require school committees, upon request by a parent, to grant timely and sufficient access by parents to a child’s current and proposed special education program. The law, referred to in this advisory as “the observation law,” limits the restrictions or conditions that schools may impose on these observations. The purpose of the law is to ensure that parents can participate fully and effectively in determining the child’s appropriate educational program.
    In my school district, if the parent doesn’t sign the Confidentiality Agreement form, they are not allowed to visit the classroom.
    The purpose of the law is for what? Parents of students w/out disability, are not required to sign anything. Discrimination?

  6. The law states that’ Parents have a right to access to teachers.” Does this include requesting a teacher recommendation or letter of reference? I have confirmed that the school does not have a policy against it. But, I was told by the Dr. of Spel Ed. that she strongly discourage teachers giving individual recommendations and the IEP should suffice. However, the IEP is not current (2010), and the private program vendor wants current feedback.

  7. Any time anyone doesn’t want to allow observations of children, I’m concerned. My grandson went to private religious pre- school, primarily for social interaction. Loved it, did well & learned a lot. The following year, the school didn’t want me to pay, though I could afford it. Informed me it was an Iowa state program. At that point, we went from 4 converences to 1 that year.
    The only thing I learned from that one, was “We’re not here to teach this year, we just observe now.” All teaching came at home. Now his public school said he needs remedial math [could count to 100 by age 4]. He reads simple books, has great English comprehension. Public school tested him, said he didn’t need remedial work, now but since his father agreed to it, he’s in it. He lost half of spring break; will lose a month of summer break.

  8. Parents Observe Children’s Classrooms & Placements? by Nara

    I would go to the board of education and request to see the procedure of observing children in the classroom to be sure, in case the principal is not up to date.
    You should go to the superintendent before filing a complaint. This is too ridiculous to file a complaint. I cannot believe the school will not let you observe. Once you talk to the superintendent, after you check if they really do or do not have a policy, I think he or she will allow it.
    If not then yes you should go to the state and file a complaint. I cannot believe it will go that far.

  9. I just went through this issue with my 6 year old – they referred him to a self-contained behavioral class in a different elementary school. I went to observe the “class” but was not allowed to see any students so I couldn’t observe the class. I was told this is for confidentiality reasons.

    It is hard for me to believe I am not allowed to see my child in this class with his teacher and peers. Also, the program has a level system so he would have to be on level 3 before he could eat lunch in the regular ed cafeteria. So I wouldn’t be able to see him at school at all. We had an ARD meeting yesterday with the district’s attorney, special ed director, my advocate, etc all in attendance. The district personnel did not know that was going on in that classroom, said that was inappropriate, and was not the way it should be.

  10. Sharon, Thanks for the reply. Prinicipal is saying “all procedures need not have to be in writing to follow”. So obviously they don’t have a copy of the procedure. Do I need to file a complaint with the school education board ?

  11. Nara I would get a copy of the procedure even if you have to go to the superintendent. They must not want you to see something or they would not have a problem with you observing.

  12. Recently we sent a request for an observation for 2 hours to the school prinicipal. They are making it impractical by limiting the session to 30 min. Initially they said it is policy, when I asked for a copy, they retracted it saying it is procedure for the whole district. I still wanted to see the copy of the procedure but now the prinicipal is saying as an administrator she has the flexibility and power to do that. Now I am not sure how to proceed.

  13. Where does a 13 year old go if he does not want to go to school, he is presently labeled an emotionally Impaired child. Being home schooled but refuses to do school work with the assigned teacher, he is violent and destructive. Parents are a big part of the problem, they give in to anything he asks for . Parents way of thinking, No school : fine, No homework that’s fine also
    Any suggestions.

  14. I was not permitted to view my son’s proposed placement at a therapeutic day treatmetn program that the SD wanted me to send my son. This was because it would violate HIPAA. Had I seen this program prior to enrolling him I don’t think I would have enrolled him. I still wonder if I should have sued them for negligence when they let him run away multiple times and he wound up in a car accident in a stolen car as a result (he was 11). It was the wrong placement for him. Where he is now is more like a school and they do a much better job at maintaining safety. Plus they understand he has learning and processing problems and work with him from that point of view which helps a lot.

  15. The way we were able to get into the classroom was to get clearance to become volunteers. That way, we have had background checks etc. Our teachers tend to be accepting with a day’s notice. Most often it is simply to find out if it fits into the class schedule for the day.

    We have never had any issues with confidentiality.

  16. Today I received a letter from our school announcing a new policy that had taken effect in October. This policy consisted of student’s rights to privacy and independance when on a school trip only parents of students with “life-threatening medical disability that requires invasive interventions or the parents of wheel-chair bound students who cannot be transported on district school buses will be permitted to attend field trips”.
    This has come after we have repeatedly been the only supporters for these kids for 3 years now.

  17. I’m very curious about the ability of a school or district for that matter to deny parental access to classroom observation. It is disturbing to me to that parents are unable to see their children, if desired, in the the classroom. Especially since it is explicitly addressed in the NCLB Act, 1504(C) as quoted in another post. The district is pulling the same BS about having to get written permission from every students’ parents before allowing observation. There is no privacy issue legally. I have requested this information in writing, but alas, I think I’ll be waiting a while. Could anyone point me to the court cases mentioned here which refer to these privacy issues in public schools?

    Thank you,


  18. It is legal to cover a door (many districts have teachers do it for safety in case of the glass breaking or some intruder). I teach in a school that allows parents to visit as long as they sign a confidentiality waiver which is a couple of lines that state that they can not talk about any one else in the classroom and they are to keep their comments afterwards about their child. Everyone who visits signs this agreement, not just those visiting special education programs.
    On a parental side: I am a parent of a child with significant communication needs due to severe apraxia. When the district was considering placing her in a program for autistic students they offered for me to go visit. Her profile is far removed from the children she would be placed with so I refused on categorical reasons. It was nice but not the right move for her

  19. My daughter’s school also will not allow me to observe the classroom; they have also placed a dark piece of paper over the door so no one can see in the classroom. None of the reg ed classroom doors are covered. When asked about this the spec ed teacher replied it was for confidentiality and without it, the students were too distracted by others walking by. Is it legal for them to cover the door?

  20. If your child has an IEP/is identified as a student w/a disability, they would potentially be in class with these other children every day. As an involved parent you would know who they are, perhaps where they live, their last names, their parent’s names, etc. The schools should NOT BE ALLOWED to modify a classroom, including the removal of students because it discriminates against the incoming child and removes visibility from the incoming child’s parents. I went through this personally. I was not allowed to see classes without other parent’s permission. If these children had been removed, and considering my son needs appropriate peer models, I would never have KNOWN if the children in class were appropriate peers for my son or not had they been allowed to be removed. In NYC parents MUST review a class before their children can attend!

  21. to consider:
    -what are the rules for reg ed parents visiting? Can you find reg ed parents in your area who are allowed to visit? to visit without appointments?
    -can you request to have visitation put into the IEP? yes. It shouldn’t be necessary, but is possible. ? to consider? the child’s ability to self-report, parents need to carry over supports at home, parents need to follow child’s health and behavioral status and see how they are responding during school to meds and treatments, life events, etc (this can also help address the appointment issue – what if your child wakes up looking off, and you want to check on how they are responding to their regular environment during that day? (not how they look in the hallway when brought to you.)

    Do not question yourself- we are being denied access to deny our child their rights

  22. My child has multiple and low-incidence disabilities(Sp.Quad CP, epilepsy, CVI, MR) so her school day is primarily spent in a self-contained classroom She was coming home from school sick a lot this school year, so I submitted a request to both the teacher and the principal to observe in the classroom for the purpose of trying to identify the seizure trigger, and the request was supported by 2 Dr. notes. The school responded that me being in the classroom violates the other student’s FERPA rights. And it is not just me, all parents with students in self contained classrooms are being forbidden from visiting or observing these self-contained classrooms, although interestingly the school PTA parent volunteers seem to be able to freely come and go to regular classrooms.

  23. I read your comment about classroom observations and confidentiality. What about a planned observation by a parent and her paraprofessional of an individual session of the teacher working with another special education child whose parent does not know that the observation is taking place? The purpose of this observation is to observe the teacher working with a discrete trial programming and took over 40 minutes.

  24. Anyone else experiencing their school district citing IDEA Reg. “34 C.F.R. § 300.622 governing confidentiality of personally identifiable information of students with disabilities” as their rationale for denying parents from visiting their child’s self-contained special education classroom?

  25. My son is in 4th grade with a teacher who teaches 4th and 5th combined ASD(asperger’s). My son has adhd, written expression, dislexia, disgraphia. I don’t believe this environment is helping him being mixed with two grades. What can I do? Do I have to put up with this?

    To Amanda: Believe your child. Go with your feelings.

  26. I have recently spoken to my childs school principle about observing my childs cklassroom, and was told ABSOLUTELY NOT! Because I would be a distraction to the students. I want to observe because my child has been coming home upset since the first dat of school this year stating her teacher is very mean to the students, and mostly her. I have spoke with the priciple about this a number of times and it does not seem to be getting any better but worse! I do not know what else to do!! My child has informed me that if I was to be in the classroom the te3acher would not act in a mean manner because she only does it when she is the only big person in the room, she states “the teacher uses her ‘fake’ voice when other big people are inn the room.” any advice?

  27. In my experience, the opposite has also been true: parents are allowed unfettered access to classrooms because school systems are worried about being sued. As a union representative for teachers, I am concerned about parents trying to be too involved in (to the point of controlling) their child’s education. Thoughts?

  28. I was the one who submitted this question at the CH Wrightslaw conf. The schools here are notorious for not allowing parents to observe potential placements. I don’t think they have anything to hide per se but they want to make the decisions unilaterally, probably based on THEIR needs- where there is space etc…. So before they say, we want your child in XYZ class, should I be able to observe a few different options? What strategy should I use? Right now, they give out a video of potential placements- I am not kidding- it even has kids in it- talk about privacy issues!

  29. I requested to observe my sons classes and the school district refused my request at the IEP meeting. How can a parent actively participate in the IEP process when the SD is impeding parental participation??

    How will the hearing officer view the SD’s refusal of my request to monitor the program that my son was offered??

  30. I not only observed in person, in the environment, it was written in the IEP that I would observe, video-tape, and voice-tape my child in any/all settings and placements. How else could I be an appropriate and well-informed IEP Team member?

  31. My son has a plethera of special needs, lots of providers, and had a robot teacher in 4th grade. He kept coming home so upset and frustrated. For the first time in his life he didn’t want to go to school.I took a day of vacation time and asked if he would like me to spend a day at school with him – my son readily agreed. I made an appointment giving teacher a weeks notice as I wanted to be part of routine day.This has been the best learning experiance to help me advocate for my son. I made a little checksheet of modificatins and accomodations and classes on excell to prepare with a list of accomodation and modifications. I just kept it my back pocket.

  32. My advice would be to contact the school or look online at the handbook for vistors. I know that my elementary, middle, and High schools allow visitors with advanced noticed. Privacy should not be affected since you are not taping or filming the students. I understand that the school may be protecting themselves, but what are they hiding is my question? The school should be willing for you to see what your child would be in.

  33. Parents who wish to observe their child’s classroom have support from the No Child Left Behind Act which emphasizes the need for parental participation.

    Parents have a right to access to teachers, opportunities to volunteer and participate in your child’s class, and to observe classroom activities. (Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, page 39, 58-59, 80, 194-198)

    If the child attends a Title I school, parents have a right to inspect instructional materials used in the curriculum. (Title X, Section 1061) (Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, page 39)

    Read this article about privacy issues: Parent Observations v. Student Confidentiality at

  34. Observations and Parent Role in Placement Decisions

    Parents are members of all teams that make decisions about a child’s education – eligibility, IEPs, placement. As a member of the placement team, you cannot make a decision about whether a placement is appropriate unless you observe that proposed placement.

    There is no law that denies parents the right to observe a classroom or placement – after all, this is YOUR child’s education.

  35. In NYC, children are offered a placement in a public school program, even if they are enrolled in a private school. Part of the ‘process’ involves having the parent (with advocate) look at, and reject the inappropriate public school placement so that they can file for tuition reimbursement under Carter.

    We observe the classroom, class makeup, teacher’s credentials, materials for reading/math, and overall academic levels of the students. We note size of the room, presence or not of stimulating/motivating materials, ability of school to fulfill IEP mandated services.

    In NYC it is required that the program be observed. No privacy issue has ever been cited. I show up with the parent unannounced. We don’t want teacher to have time to ‘prepare’ for visit. You can certainly cite this as an example of a school system in which parents (and their advocates) can observe programs which their children are not yet attending.
    Sharon 🙂

  36. Dieter: I think there is confusion among school personnel about privacy and confidentiality rights so they tend to place unnecessary limits on parent visits.

    Courts have consistently held that children who attend public schools have very limited privacy rights. For example, there is no legal requirement that before a parent can visit or observe a class, other parents have to consent. Think about how this would play out in other situations. Assume a parent volunteers to help their child’s teacher – in the classroom or on a field trip. Does the school get consent from parents of all the children in the class? No. Why not? Because it isn’t necessary.

    Do you have a student handbook? That may help clarify requirements. I’m not encouraging you to get into a battle over this issue. It’s essential for parents to realize that they need to verify what they are told, especially when it doesn’t make sense.

  37. According to our son’s school manual, we are welcome to observe our son’s class, but we have to make an appointment in advance. I haven’t tried visiting yet, but I don’t believe we have to wait weeks for approval.

  38. This was one of my first questions, can we observe, this would be fine with the school providing we give them two to three weeks notice, due to the Privacy Act. For parents approval. Dieter

  39. The Special Education Director should not mind providing you with statistics from the class. What percent are on grade level? if age appropriate, how many credits does a typical student in this class obtain per school year. The general education population have a number of opportunities throughout the year to meet and form bonds. This is done through sporting events, volunteering at dances or PTA meetings, without regard to other finding out who they are. Are there any activities that will allow you to meet the parents of the other students in their class? This information along with an observation should offer enough information for you to make a decision.

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