Nonresidential Parents’ Involvement in Schools: Protecting Rights and Helping Children Succeed

January 21, 2014 by Don Hubin, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio

An educational agency or institution shall give full rights under the Act to either parent unless the agency or institution has been provided with evidence that there is a court order, state Statute, or legally binding document relating to such matters as divorce, separation, or custody, that specifically revokes these rights.

§99.4 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (1974)

With these words, Federal law guarantees to each parent, regardless of residential status, the right of access to all school records of his or her children. Some nonresidential parents don’t know that they do not have to rely on the other parent to stay informed about their child’s school progress. Too often, though, nonresidential parents who are trying to stay informed about and involved in their children’s education have difficulties getting their children’s records. As a result, their involvement is limited. This has unfortunate consequences for many children.

A study of the U.S. Department of Education (National Center for Educational Statistics) describes the educational benefits that accrue for children when their nonresidential fathers are highly involved in their education. In comparison with children whose nonresidential fathers are not highly involved, children with highly involved fathers:

  • are significantly more likely to receive ‘A’s in the sixth through twelfth grades;
  • are significantly more likely to enjoy school in the first through twelfth grades;
  • are significantly more likely to par­ticipate in extracurricular activities in first through fifth grades (Parents of older students were not asked this question.);
  • are significantly less likely to repeat a grade in first through twelfth grades; and,
  • are significantly less likely to be sus­pended or expelled in sixth through twelfth grade (Parents of younger students were not asked this question.).

The study found that the involvement of nonresidential fathers had significant benefits for children regardless of the level of school involvement of the residential mother.

Nonresidential parents, residential parents and school administrators must all be educated about the importance of both parents staying involved — or becoming involved — in their children’s schools. At a time when our schools need all the help they can get educating our nation’s children, it is a shame that this valuable resource is frequently neglected and sometime spurned by the schools themselves.

The problems caused by nonresidential fathers being discouraged from involvement in their children’s schools are serious. Attorneys can help to solve these problems by talking with both residential and nonresidential parents about the need for both parents to be involved with their children’s schools.

When parents who are trying to be involved in their children’s schools have difficulties with uncooperative schools, attorneys can help these parents get access to school records. Parents, regardless of their residential status, have a right under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to the following documents:

  • report cards;
  • enrollment forms;
  • achievement tests;
  • progress reports;
  • field trip forms;
  • incident reports;
  • disciplinary reports;
  • medical records;
  • emergency notification cards; and,
  • any other officially generated reports, including email.

The National Parents Organization is working to make shared parenting the default outcome when parents separate or divorce. Until that becomes the law of the land across the country, parents’ rights to be involved in the raising of their children won’t be adequately recognized or protected. But, even in the current, flawed family law environment, where one parent is routinely and unjustifiably designated “non-custodial” and “non-residential”, even those parents who have been so designated have some of their rights protected by federal law, and often by state laws. If you’re having trouble accessing your child’s school records — if your child’s school doesn’t treat you as a full parental partner in your child’s education, confront the school with these provisions of the FERPA law. And check your state statutes; many provide additional protections.

The U.S. Department of Education study shows something that National Parents Organization is dedicated to: the best parent is both parents. Nowhere is this more true than in the context of our children’s education.

National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.


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