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.

**********

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.

  1. Can parents spend the day in a classroom where student medical needs are being met daily and HIPPA rights are in place?

    • Ask for the district’s written policy on classroom visits/observations. These can vary from state to state, and district to district.

      • Is it my right as a parent to request outside agency to do observation on my child in a classroom sitting.

        • Yes, But districts can have policies that limit or prevent observations. Ask to seek these policies when you make your request.

    • I’ve filed several complaints with the elementary school and district after months of trying to get answers on a few issues that arose and I asked yesterday how can I attend school with my son because since the complaints were filed last week no one from the elementary school and the district are allowed to talk to me I’ve been told. I don’t feel comfortable for sending my son to school alone.

      This is what a district board member told me in response to me asking if I can attend school with my son.(public school) my son Has been out for a week now due to concerns with this district.

      Ms. Cervantes,

      I’m glad the explanation helps, and I’m certain that the investigator will appreciate your full cooperation as well.

      As to attending your son’s classes, I have consulted with the District’s legal counsel on this matter. Parents may attend classes in a limited capacity for bona fide purposes, for example, observing the teaching and learning activities taking places. The parental right of access is not unlimited and can be restricted, however, where visitation / observation would disrupt the classroom procedure or learning activity.

      I understand that you are requesting to attend class with your student full-time, every day. The District does not permit this for parents because it disrupts classroom procedure and the learning activities of all involved, including other students. Though I understand your concerns, the District cannot fulfill your particular request.

      The District can arrange for a limited period of visitation for you to observe the teaching and learning in your student’s classroom. This would have to be scheduled in advance and would be subject to the District’s general policies / procedures for visitors. The District may also have you observe the classroom with another staff member in attendance. The District may require proof of vaccination and/or a negative COVID-19 test prior to your visit, and you may be required to wear a mask for the period of your visit.

      I trust this answers your questions. If you are still interested in scheduling an observation period, please let me know, and I will work with administration and staff to coordinate a visitation.

      • Vanessa, Not sure I understand your question. Do you want to accompany your child to school, all day, every day? Do you want to sit with him in his classes all day, every day?
        Why?

  2. I would like to have my son’s ABA therapist observe him in the classroom for two 55-minute sessions via a secure telemedicine platform without audio or video recording. I would like for his therapist to observe him in order to help us develop behavior strategies for consideration in his upcoming IEP meeting. The school principal says this is not allowed, but I know that other elementary schools in our school district have allowed similar observations. Could you please advise?

    • Two Rules:
      * You must document what school people tell you.
      * You must present as a helpful, curious, reasonable person.

      You need to write a letter or email (letters get more attention) to document your request that your child’s therapist be allowed to observe him in the classroom for two 55-minute sessions via a secure telemedicine platform without audio or video recording and the principal’s response that this “isn’t allowed. You are surprised and confused. You need to make sure you understand his/her position.

      In a very short paragraph, describe your child, his personality, strengths, and difficulties, that he has an IEP. (Your objective is to engage the interest of a person who has the power to make / overrule decisions.) *Briefly* describe or summarize your concerns about your child, that he has an ABA therapist who works with him. If you are paying for ABA therapy to supplement what the school provides, mention that.

      NOTE: You need to be succinct. If you go on and on, it’s unlikely that anyone with power will read your letter. I recommend you sign up for a free account for Grammarly or similar – I use it all the time.

      You made this request because your child’s ABA therapist needs info from current observations of your child in the classroom to work effectively with him. As your child’s parent, you need current info from the ABA therapist about your child’s present levels, difficulties, and needs. If the school will not allow you to have this information, you won’t be able to fully participate in developing your child’s IEP.

      You are renewing your request for the observations. You think this is a reasonable request. The observations will not disrupt the students or teacher. Please let you know, in writing, if he/she will allow your child’s ABA therapist to observe your child in the classroom in this manner. If the/she refuses your request, please provide the reason(s) and rationale for this refusal.

      If he/she needs additional information before considering this request, please advise. You appreciate his/her help so this issue can be resolved quickly.

      Please keep us posted on what happens next.

  3. We live in Northern Lower Michigan and have not been allowed into our kids schools since covid. My wife use to go in and help out with library time, class parties, and just day to day events. We have not been allowed inside since covid. Not even to pick our kids up. Is this legal for our schools to not let us in?

  4. My son’s teachers have been calling and texting me daily about him misbehaving.. it’s at the same time each day when he switches class rooms and I thought maybe it’s due to hunger so we incorporated a snack before that class but he still had a “hard day in music” so am I able to go to his school and observe to see what’s going on with him? I’m just trying everything I can to ensure a successful school year for him…

    • Hi Shanimarie: I assume your child is eligible for special education and has an IEP. You need to request an IEP meeting to address his behavior problems. The first step is for the team to conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) to identify the factors that trigger his misbehavior.

      The next step is for his team to use info from the FBA to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to address his problem behaviors.

      It’s essential to get this ball rolling ASAP. If a child’s behavior problems aren’t addressed early, they can become entrenched and more difficult to resolve.

      If your child does not have an IEP, you need to request an evaluation for special education.

      Before requesting help, you need to learn about behavior problems, FBAs, and BIPs. I am including links to two articles that will help:

      *”Functional Behavioral Assessment & Positive Interventions: What Parents Need to Know” at https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/discipl.fba.jordan.pdf

      *”Functional Behavioral Assessments: What, Why, When, Where, and Who?” at https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/discipl.fab.starin.htm

      Good luck!

  5. Pingback: Have you ever thought about observing your child's classroom? Or their proposed classroom? You can! - Advocates for Justice and Education

    • My son has triple deficit dyslexia and dysgraphia as well as APD and ADHD-I and it has become clear his accommodations are not being used inside his 5th grade classroom. How do I go about observing the classroom without them preparing for me to be there?

      • First you need to look at the district policy on observations. If it requires visits to be prearranged, you will need to consider other ways to approach this. There should be documentation of some accommodations (fewer math problems, spelling words; more time for assignments). You can ask your child & others in the class what is & is not happening. If he is to have access to technology, or a wireless headset, you can ask the teacher to show you these, & how they work. You can talk with a campus, or district sp ed administrator about your concerns. They are responsible for IEPs & accommodations being followed. They may not tell you what they found, but things could start improving. Using the district internal complaint process is a more formal way to do this. Whether you observe or not, the key is whether he is meeting his IEP goals & catching up with his peers. If not, he is not being provided FAPE.

  6. This was my experience. School said since Covid guidelines I would not be able to walk my son to class. I asked to be contact be the principal. She called me and I told her of the ESSA code. She asked me “are you wanting to observe the teach to determine the effectiveness of her teaching and duties?” My answer, absolutely. She replied saying that that’s out of the question and that was her job! Hah! “No ma’am, I will decide what’s acceptable teaching for my own son and I don’t need your permission to do so.” I then asked her if she was aware of ESSA code. She blew by the question and said she would talk to her “higher ups” to confirm what I was saying. 10 min later I received an email from her saying that I could come and observe.

    • Hahaha if I was the principal I would have said, ‘sure’ and let you stay for 5 minutes and be on your way. It does not state the length of time, only that it’s reasonable which is vague. I’d never let a factious parent evaluate the effectiveness of staff, like you can just homeschool then. Especially during covid, are you joking? The teacher could’ve sent you a video. Feel sorry for the staff involved.

  7. I think that we should leave our children to have privacy. This is an invasion of privacy! Anyone else???

    • No its not. I have observed my child’s class and needed to do this because I want to make sure he is getting what he needs. Parents of non-disabled kids need to understand that. I have a right to observe. I am not trying to violate any one’s privacy. I just need to make sure my son is getting what he needs.

    • Invasion of privacy? Maybe if they were adults but then they would be on their own. Not all children may need observation but we as parents are responsible for what our children learn. Also, it is not only our children that need observation but the school. Do you trust the government school system to teach your children the difference between what is right or wrong? Schools today are just not the same. As a student years ago I did not see the need for parental observation. Today there are full-time police officers, multiple principles specializing in discipline and behavior problems, fully fenced campuses, and so much beaurocracy the teachers don’t have time to teach. The students see all this as “normal”. I see a much bigger problem. It is past time for parents to get involved.

      • If you want to be responsible for what your child learns, I suggest you homeschool- then you have full control and no concerns. Public education is a privilege; not an inherent right build into the Constitution. Let’s not forget that.

        • And you shouldn’t forget that TAX PAYERS fund the education system, to the tune of about $8,000 per child per year. School boards are ELECTED which means it is not just a moral obligation as a parent, but also a responsibility as a tax paying voter who lives in America to hold those elected to the job responsible. If you think voting once every four years is how you support freedom in this country, you’re mistaken. As for rights built into the Constitution, the Constitution is a piece of paper. Its power comes from those EXACTLY Jeff who expect to participate in society because he is free to do so. You seem to think that parents who take active rolls in ensuring get the education they are entitled to, a proper education (that is most certainly a right in this country because while not mentioned specifically, it is covered under the 14th amendment by case law. However, the U.S. Government has an interest in education and it requires each state to provide and maintain “a system whereby a child may receive an education, so each state has covered this in their individual Constitutions. Law touches every area of your life so, instead of telling people who help fund the education system what you THINK you know followed by go homeschool? Perhaps you should just get schooled period. People make time for what’s important to them, like going to sit in on classes for their children.
          One final point. Your comment about education being a privilege and not a right? Have you ever seen a ‘privilege’ that you could go to jail for not enjoying? I didn’t think so.

    • Are you kidding? Children have the right to engage with an adult, not a parent or relative, in privacy without the observation of a parent or relative? I don’t know how you can logically support this.

    • Ummm, no. I’m sure this is not the most popular train of thought, but I know what ‘privacy’ does. YOU are what is called the PARENT. This implies a position of authority and leadership. It is a position in which you are the person to guide the child in right and wrong and learning to be responsible.
      At home, practice that give them privacy if you feel they need it, but most kids don’t even like the idea until they’re older anyway. But in a public situation, especially in schools where so many stories hit the news of children as young as 9 committing suicide because of bullying, of teacher’s sexual relationships with the students, there’s no such thing as privacy in my kids vocab. Plus, privacy is NOT a right.

      • Nor is public education. If you have time to go in and watch your child, it sounds like you have time to homeschool.

    • I’m sorry but if we’re discussing children, privacy is not their right. You aren’t their friend. As the parent and especially a parent today, we would be remiss in our responsibilities if we didn’t invade the privacy at every opportunity. Did you know that your child is more likely to be sexually assaulted at school than by someone on the street? Here’s a quote from the Washington Post article that refers to the Dept. Of Ed. Findings.
      “The Education Department found that reports of sexual violence at schools rose from about 9,600 in the 2015-2016 school year to nearly 15,000 in the 2017-2018 school year. That’s an increase of more than 50 percent.”
      You can find the PDF online. So, you feel comfortable handing out privacy to your child, go ahead & I hope they know what to do to avoid it.

  8. What about during Covid. Our schools are saying no one, in however to my knowledge that is simply policy NOT law. If I am observing with with proper face coverings and following hand washing and distance guidelines, can I still be denied?

    • Yes, this is policy, but based on the policy you can be denied. Read the policy. Sometimes it allows observations under certain circumstances, and you can appeal the decision thru the district complaint process.

      • Policy does not supercede law, it may delay the execution of it. It is sad that it takes additional extensive action for the parents who care about their kids and the law. The majority of parents allow schools to be full-time care takers of their children and never question the law or process…..and we wonder why millineals think the way they do. Parenting is absolutely the hardest work I’ve ever done and after 5 children I still don’t know what I’m doing.

        • Jeff, you are correct. But I am not aware of any federal law/rule that gives parents of kids with disabilities the right to observe. I believe that Title 1 rules require some amount of observation, but I am not clear how that might apply to a student at a Title 1 campus or district who is not Title 1 eligible. TX law allows schools to limit or stop observations. Hope you are able to observe your child.

    • This happened to me today. I told the administrator Covid may be an inconvenience but it is not a reason to deny access to my son that needs attention the school has not been able to provide. We had a civil conversation but I left with the school knowing I would use all legal avenues if need be. The law if Federal not State. The politicizing of Covid has already gone too far. I’ll try to let everyone know what happens.

      • I’ve put my request in writing today to observe my child. He is in the EBD room and recently has been moved out most of the day for co-taught classes. We are seeing serious behaviors. Could be the schedule change, puberty, medicine change or all three. They are ‘checking’ into it but with Covid, the answer will most likely be no. Any advice? We have our annual IEP at the end of April. I’m citing that I need to see what is happening to help figure out his triggers so I can not only help him at home but so that I can give appropriate feed back to the team at our meeting.

        • I was denied the option to observe him in class citing Covid, even though all staff has been vaccinated and I was willing to follow all protocol. Our governor is even lifting many of the Covid policies he put in place, such as large gatherings.
          Any advice?

          • Write a complaint to the state board of education? Did you request this from the school directly? If the denied you, request it from the BOE. Explain your willingness to abide by health systems they may have in place and include somewhere how you ‘assume that since the Governor is lifting these mandates it won’t be a problem, especially in light of the fact that the request is based on your concern for your child’s health, both physical and mental’. It is NOT the school’s job to check into either of those things, it is yours. If they continue to block it, go to the state DOE, then the U.S. DOE. It might also help to check resources for his condition on sites like NAMI.

      • I would love to hear what you find out, Jeff, if you don’t mind. I’m under the impression lately that schools are doing MORE to keep parents out of school ‘business’ than to allow them access, and I’m not happy with ANY government supported entity blocking access of p parents to children. There was a school somewhere telling parents they were not allowed to observe their child participating in computer classes that were live. If my child is in my house, at my table I’m going to say I know what they can do with their demand or policy

  9. Do you think observing your child in the classroom has given an accurate picture/experience of their day/day experience or was it more a distraction to your child and/or teacher (since they see you in the classroom)? Thanks in advance

    • Probably not. It does establish a foundation in the students mind that may not be understood for years. Observing does show the school teachers and administrators which parents are involved. It also keeps the school in check in case there are any rogue teachers or improper curriculum.

      • Trust me; as difficult as the last few years have been. Rogue teachers shouldn’t be your primary concern. The teacher shortage should concern you though, as more demands on teachers are driving teachers to quit in droves. Teachers go into teaching because they love kids and want to make a difference. Nothing is going to get your child less help and support if they need it than driving teachers to quit to save their mental health. I’m in a wealthy we’ll-paying district and we can’t find support staff or substitutes (including long term subs) to fill open positions. If you keep driving teachers out by more pressure and demands, you are going to have a disaster on your hands. Also, last time your doctor had to do a even minor surgery on your child, did you insist you go in the surgery room, even if you scrubbed in? NO! That would never be allowed because people trust doctors. They apparently don’t trust teachers. The lack of respect is going to push even more students out of profession. Hope y’all are ready to pay for your child’s education because in private schools they don’t take this BS. Or, you can always homeschool (there goes your free babysitting while you work). Look up the public school teacher shortage. Ask yourself what happens if the public keeps pushing teachers to the brink of mental and physical health problems. You think your child isn’t getting services they need now? Ha! There will soon be such an exodus that will be so much worse, and if schools can’t find people who want to be mistrusted and disrespected, you then, will not have any services for your child because no one will be applying for the job. Unless you want it? Then you can see what’s going on all the time…

        • Rachel, I am coming to this thread after a couple of years, but what are you so frightened of? I don’t see what demands are placed on a teacher by being observed once in awhile. I’m a child psychiatrist, and I would not dream of interviewing the child only alone, part may be alone, and part with the parent, and the parent may be interviewed alone, I get different information each way, similar to a parent observing in a classroom.

  10. What are the laws/stipulations regarding family members visiting the classroom; aunts, uncle, godparents?

    • Typically states do not have law or rules on this, so it is up to districts to develop policy on this. Check your district’s policy on this. It is not uncommon for campuses to not follow district policy.

  11. Good evening. After reading these comments it seems that district policy can trump federal law? Or was this post an interpretation of the law that is not something parents can use to advocate?

    • There is no federal rule about parents observing at school, so states can develop rules, and districts can develop policies. States and schools are addressing areas that federal law & rules do not address. This happens in many areas of special ed.

    • Unfortunately, the law is always written to be interpreted politically. Thank God for salvation by Grace and NOT the Law. This is where the judicial system would get involved if required.

  12. What about the rights of the other disabled students in the class? Don’t they have a right to privacy concerning their particular disabilities? If a parent is observing their child, there is nothing stopping them from making judgements about other students and spreading them outside the school with other parents. As a teacher, I’m not going to sit and explain to a parent why certain students behave the way they do, it’s not their business.

    • That is a valid question. I see the potential complications for sure. These are the challenges of living in a free thinking country where everyone has rights. When rights of some impede the legitimate rights of others who determines the outcome? Parents who observe classes should do just that. Any issues of concern during the observation should be brought up to an administrator at a later time. A teacher should not have to explain anything. Parents should actually give all teachers the benefit of doubt if for no other reason than being in a carrier teaching MY kids. What goes on in the classroom IS the parents business if their child is in it.

    • having a parent in the room during testing invalidates the testing process as the tests would be administered against the format they have been standardized in. Scores would not be valid if standardization is broken.

  13. Can I observe my child outside at recess? He is having alot of trouble at this time. So I wanted to observe. I did so and what I saw was disgusting. I watched the teachers not watching certian spots of playground for minutes at end even facing in the opposite direction. My child ACTUALLY left the fenced yard through an opening and was on steps for a few moments within 20 feet insight of teachers who were talking. I also witnessed 5 other boys fighting ,punching kicking etc. This was happening for about 4 mins and teachers were talking. I want to call the board but am afraid if I do so i may broken a rule to request permission to observe.

    • Start with the principal and inform him/her that the students are not being supervised at recess. Unfortunately, too often, teachers think recess is their social time when really they are still responsible for supervising children.

  14. Is it legal for the school to require that I give them a 24-hour notice before I can visit my child’s classroom?

  15. Is limiting parental observation of classroom “reasonable” if the school requires parents to give 2 week notification prior, requires escort by the principal, is limited to 2 observations per school year and 30 minutes per visit? How does this provide any picture of what is really going on when your special needs child is terrified to go to school?

  16. I tried to shadow my child at school today and was only allowed 10 mins supervised visit then told that I wasn’t allowed to shadow my child without the permission of the principal is this true need all the info I can get please

    • Your state probably allows the district to develop policy about parent observations. Obtain a copy of the district policy on observation from the district website or central office. You can determine if they are following the district policy.

  17. Although federal law supports parent observations, especially if the child is non-verbal and cannot express what happens in school with his/her program, more and more schools in Wisconsin tell parents and us (Disability Rights Wisconsin) that they do not have to allow parent observations because the IDEA doesn’t specifically grant parents the right to observe. They also use violation of FERPA as a reason to bar parents from observing their child in the special education classroom.

  18. My child’s school is Title 1 school. The school policies are “request a visit 24 hours prior to the principal” ” the principal May approve or May Not” “If a visit is approved, the principal is accompanied with parents” “it is up to his decisions”

    They will definitely stage everything in advance because it happened before. The door is locked all the time too. Since parents have seen that there are not enough staff now, they prevent parents from pop ups. Is there any laws override the school policies due to safety concerns?

  19. While maybe not ideal, has anyone heard of forbidding parents from observing the special education evaluation process if their child is being evaluated for an IEP?

    • I have heard of parents being able to observe through a one-way window, but having a parent in the room during the testing can alter the child’s performance.

      • When my kids were younger at pre-school, a one way window was always available to parents, teachers, etc. The teacher and I were observing through the one way window one morning at the school and witnessed a young student teacher look disgusted when my very active child and another active child joined the group. The teacher addressed the incident as the student teacher’s body language was also very obvious. Teachable moments can be everlasting. For that student teacher, she learned that working with young kids was frustrating for her and she got caught. My children thrived in that school as there were many checks and balances.

  20. If a parent gives written permission for the grandmother to sit in class and observe her grand child because the school is calling multiple times to her daughter on her job. Can a grandparent sat in and observe the grandchild’s behavior? Would the leave no child behind rule be in effect.

    • It will depend on the district or campus policy on observations. Your strongest position is that the child is to receive an appropriate education, & this is not happening if they are calling often. Your state parent and training project can give you information on the school’s responsibilities and how to deal with this. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

  21. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGXX6VPdiXs
    A 3 minute youtube clip where I went in front of the school board and mention the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. More so to it, I mentioned Title 20 USCS § 6318, as so far, I’ve been denied being able to go into my sons classroom and observe what he is doing. This has been a daunting task to say the least.

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