The start of the school year is upon us! Aside from organizing yourself for the school year, one big part of keeping up with your child’s schooling is to write the yearly letter to the school. This letter will reiterate your rights and formalize your requests.
Did you know that it is federal law (FERPA) that the school HAS to release information about the student to both parents? Both parents are entitled to report cards, progress reports, field trip information, parent teacher conferences etc.
However, many schools have never had a child with a long distance parent. School administrative staff may assume that a parent at a distance means an uninvolved parent. Many school staff are not fully aware of the practical implications of FERPA with a long distance parent. No school knows what you want until you tell them. Enter, the letter.
Why send a letter to the school?
Primarily, you send a letter to the school in order to ensure your rights and requests are respected. Thought they should be, not everyone is familiar with FERPA. Further, not everyone familiar with FERPA will understand or be empathetic to your situation. It’s also possible your co-parent has muddied the waters with the school.
Here is an example school policy from the Salt Lake City school district. It’s very typical of school district policy. In it, it says :
The district presumes that both parents share legal custody and share the right to make educational decisions regarding their student. However, when a dispute arises, the parent who enrolled the student is considered by the district to have physical and legal custody of the student until a signed legal document describing the custodial arrangement is provided to the school/district.
What this means to a long distance parent is that if there is any doubt of custody, the school will treat your co-parent as the parent. You will have no rights until you provide evidence. While in most cases, this wouldn’t be an issue, in contentious co-parenting situations, you could be blocked from access simply by your co-parent telling the school you don’t have rights.
The letter strategy I provide here stops problems before they start. It pre-arms the school with exactly what they need to follow the law. The letter template I share below outlines exactly what you are requesting. Someone unfamiliar with FERPA or your situation needs only to respect what’s in the letter.
Finally, generally, only requests sent in writing are verifiable and recordable. If you call and speak with someone, you cannot be assured that information will wind up in your child’s records. You also have no way of knowing your child’s teacher gets the information.
Why send a letter to the school every year?
Very simply, it must be repeated annually because staffing changes at the school and not everyone remembers. If you send it once in Kindergarten, by 1st grade, your child has other more visible records in the system. Your letter in kindergarten is buried by 5th grade. Additionally, your child will have a new teacher every year who probably didn’t see the letter. Your child will also most likely go to a new school in middle school and high school as well.
This has improved as schools have become computerized and this information is fielded. However, the data they have is only as good as their understanding of the situation.
At the beginning of the school year, you should send a new letter to the school. Introduce yourself, give them any updated contact information, updated requests – and all in writing. In the olden days, this had to be a paper letter. You can get away with an email now, in many cases.
What should be in your letter
Your specific circumstances might differ but at a minimum, ensure the following is included in your letter :
- Outline your situation in the first paragraph so that they know why you are writing the letter
- Specifically request the type of involvement you want to spell it out for schools that might not have experience with this sort of request.
- Along with your letter, you include several SASEs if they will be mailing you records and letters.
- Include the first page of your most up to date custody agreement. This page generally includes the date of the order, who has what custody, case number etc. If your court order does not contain such a summary, include the pages that do contain this information.
Although there aren’t a ton of great examples out there, I did find this request for records letter, which is another example. However, the below letter template is specific to long distance parents.
Template Letter to the School
September 3, 2004
789 Main Ave.
Somewhere, AB 12345
To Whom It May Concern:
My son/daughter, child’s name attends grade level at School Name. His/her mother/father, custodial parent’s name and I are divorced and share unrestricted joint custody. Child’s name lives with his mother/father there in school’s city and I live in City, State. I remain, very much, an active part of Child’s Name every day life and school life.
Please ensure that I am listed as his mother/father on all school records. My contact information is as follows :
789 Main Ave.
Somewhere, AB 12345
Cell : 555-1212
Home : 555-1212
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
I would like to be copied on report cards, progress reports and any correspondence sent to Child’s Name’s father/mother regarding my child’s progress, behavior or other teacher or administrative comments or concerns. You will find 10 SASEs included, and I am happy to provide more as needed and/or pay for copies.
I would also like access to the online parent portal to my child’s records.
Please also include me in all parent teacher conferences via conference call. I am happy to call the school at appointed conference times to absorb long distance charges.
Please, don’t hesitate to call me regarding Child’s Name, no matter the time. The best number to reach me at is my cell phone number.
With a non-emergency situation where Child’s Name may need to be picked up from school, obviously distance would keep me from being available. However, should Child’s Name need emergency medical care, I am able to provide a legal release for his/her care and should be listed as the first alternate contact after his father/mother. I should also be the first alternate contact for all other behavior related or non-emergency situations where Child’s Name does not need to be sent home.
Enclosed you will find the pertinent excerpts from the court order. I appreciate your time and look forward to working with you to ensure Child’s Name’s continued educational success!