If you’re a long-distance parent, keeping up with how your child is doing in school can be a challenge. Your co-parent may not be sharing the information they agreed to share in your parenting plan when you divorced.
Your child may not be old enough to communicate about things beyond their favorite teacher or their last art project. Older kids are understandably reluctant to share bad news about grades or disciplinary actions.
Fortunately, federal law gives parents some rights to access their children’s school records. This access is guaranteed under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). It applies both to custodial as well as noncustodial parents.
The limitations of FERPA
However, only public schools and educational agencies are bound by FERPA. If your child is in a private school, it likely isn’t required by federal law to provide this information.
Under FERPA, parents of children in public schools can typically obtain “education records.” This includes report cards and other records maintained by the school on the student. It doesn’t include things like notifications of parent-teacher conferences, school calendars and other information.
Asking the school for information
Whether you have rights to some school records under federal law or not, you have every right to ask for the information you need to stay current on your child’s schooling. Unless there is a court order in place restricting your access to your child, you can be proactive in contacting your child’s school to let them know you want to receive copies of anything that is sent to your co-parent.
You can also ask to be included in parent-teacher conferences via video call – either separately from your co-parent or in the same conference. You can ask to be notified along with your co-parent of any issues your child is having that need to be addressed. You should be prepared to provide the school with a copy of your custody agreement.
Some school administrators aren’t fully aware of their responsibilities to long-distance parents and may feel like they’re protecting your child’s privacy. They may also be persuaded by the parent with more direct access to the school not to provide information.
If you’re having trouble getting the cooperation of your child’s school (whether your rights are covered under FERPA or not), it may be a good idea to seek legal guidance. This can help you remain involved in your child’s life and education.