Education as we knew it no longer exists. In it’s place is a new normal: socially distant in-person learning, hybrid online/offline learning or (more commonly right now) 100% virtual learning from home.
School looks very different from when we were kids. Luckily there are laws and regulations that protect your child’s right to an equitable education.
Military Families Need to Use These Rights In Public Schools Now
Note: nothing presented in this article should be construed as legal advice; families should consult an attorney if they suspect that their child’s educational rights have been violated.
FERPA for Everyone
All students enrolled in public schools are protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This law works like HIPAA in healthcare.
Basically, it means that only very limited information about your child can be shared publicly. That usually means any “directory” information: name, address, phone number, place/date of birth and awards or honors.
Everything else, like grades or education plans, remains highly restricted. Only teachers and staff with a vested current interest in the student may access non-directory information. This means that a third grade teacher can’t poke around in a fourth grader’s cumulative records.
FERPA also means that you, as parents, have the right to review your child’s record and request corrections or add a letter that states your concerns with the information present. FERPA also allows parents to make photo copies of their child’s cumulative records. However, schools may charge a fee for these copies.
Why you need to know about it now:
You need to know about FERPA right now because we are in the age of digital everything. Grades are stored online, assignments are all online and even teaching is virtual.
The digital world means that you need to guard your child’s records even more carefully. It’s easy to attach the wrong info to an email!
Asking for a careful review of records is also crucial prior to a PCS. Make sure that everything is intact and correct before you leave the school. Ask to correct any errors that you notice right away.
Individualized Education Rights You Might Miss
No part of school is normal right now – and that goes double for children with IEPs! Luckily, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and state laws include special protections for parents navigating special education.
Basically, schools are duty bound to find, assess and support students with diagnosed or suspected learning differences per Child Find.
When kids are enrolled in schools, testing data determines whether a child is in need of an IEP or individualized education plan. The whole IEP is designed to meet your child exactly where they are with services and supports to fit their specific needs.
Parents must consent to initial and annual evaluations. Parents must also be part of the IEP team, collaborating in the development of the IEP, and providing written consent to the IEP.
Why you need to know it now:
With the pandemic school shut down, special education services look different. However, parental consent is still required before any changes in placement, supports or services is made to an IEP.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has repeatedly stated that IDEA is not altered in any way and that states will not be able to seek waivers. A waiver would allow states to skirt testing timelines or make changes without parental involvement.
We all recognize that things won’t look the same for students with disabilities during distance learning. However, parents still should be involved in the process and be able to give fully informed consent.
Right now, parents should be reviewing any and all documents related to their child’s education plan and services from March to the present. You should be checking for changes to which you did not provide consent or missed assessment timelines. If you notice either of these things, it’s time to ask questions, possibly with the support of a professional education advocate or lawyer.
Free Access to Education is Important
One of the major tenants of IDEA is Free Appropriate to Public Education (FAPE). This little clause means that students with disabilities should have access to an equitable education, delivered at their instructional level and per their IEP.
FAPE is something that parents need to advocate for every single year.
Why you need to know it now:
Again, school doesn’t look like it did last year at this time. Services don’t look the same and aren’t going to be delivered in the normal setting.
Students with disabilities might not be able to access the technology required for equal access to the distance learning platform being used in their school. They may not be able to demonstrate skills or receive services virtually.
Each school needs to be aware of these possibilities and be prepared to make adjustments that ensure FAPE for each child with an IEP.
As a parent, you should be holding the school accountable for FAPE by checking that they are adapting technology, curriculum, assignments and services for our new educational reality.