Monday, November 10, 2008

Custody issues and e-mail

The strangest thing has happened to me this year, now a couple of times.

Parents can e-mail me from the school's website, and do from time to time. I'm a big parent e-mailer myself, often jotting off quick "_______ didn't do his homework last night" e-mails to concerned (or even unconcerned) parents.

Twice this year, two different parents have emailed me to ask about the progress of a student. I, of course, promptly reply. And in both of these instances, I get a somewhat angry or concerned email or message from the opposite parent, saying I had no business e-mailing the parent who inquired because that parent does not have custody.

I have no desire to get in the middle of family disputes, and want only what is best for the youngster. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to take the second parents' word in both cases that I shouldn't contact the other one, or if I'm supposed to ask for some sort of proof. I want to get as little involved as possible, but I also want to contact the person who is going to affect change. In the first case, for example, I had been totally unsuccessful contacting the first parent and it wasn't until I contacted the second parent - who obviously went back to the first parent with some sort of a "Why aren't you making _____ do any homework?" accusation - that I got any response from that parent at all. Still, if I'm not legally supposed to share information about grades because of custody issues, I'm obviously not going to do that.

This is something I've never dealt with before as a teacher. I think it's mostly a product of having public e-mail addresses for the first time in my 8-year career. I'm going to have to ask a few folks on this one...


Anonymous said...

Your school counselors should be filling you in on the parents who may NOT be contacted because of Protective Orders, etc. But in Maryland, unless the parent with custody submits court documents stating that the other parent many not have contact with the child, the school is legally obligated to provide information to the non-custodial parent, as well. Your standard response to the angry parent should be, "Please talk with our Guidance Office about this."

Tiffany said...

I agree with anonymous. At our school, unless the parent has produced a copy of legal documentation stating that you should NOT be communicating with the other parent, you should continue to do so. Here's an interesting article about school records and non-custodial parents.

Glad you liked the Allison pics :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is correct. You should be notified by the counselors or the office. If you're not sure, or getting help is like pulling teeth, there should be paper work in the student's cumulative file that you could access.

Pam Parker said...

I'm glad you brought this issue up, it's sometimes a tricky spot for teachers. I've taken the opportunity to respond to the question on my own blog, Texas Teacher Law, and linked to your post as the inspiration. It won't be posted until the 22nd, but here's what it will say:
Under federal law, all parents are entitled to access student records of minor children, regardless of any custody arrangement. There are really only two exceptions to this:
1. Parental rights have been TERMINATED (this is a severe situation and has nothing to do with custody. When one parent is given sole custody, that does NOT mean that the other parent's parental rights have been terminated)
2. There is a court order that restricts one parent from accessing information. Such a court order will usually be found in the custody order.

That's it. Unless a court says in writing that a parent has no right to information, then a parent has a right to information. Even if the parent has no visitation rights or a restraining order has been issued, the parent has a right to information about their child unless one of the two exceptions above apply.

As a teacher, if you are in doubt, talk to your campus administrator and follow their instructions. If the campus administrator is in doubt, then they can request a copy of the relevant court documents.

If a parent tells you that you may not communicate with the other parent, ask them to provide the school with a copy of the court order that says so.

Anonymous said...

Pretty much the same. I'm taking a school law course this coming semester to keep my certification, so if I find anything more that is specific to our state's situation. I'll let you know.

-The Chaplain