Is it Right to Keep Vital Information from Parents?
Schools organize around these ideas. A child interacts with different adults of various roles, each one acting in the best interest of the student. As important as you are as an educator, school staff should never take the place of the primary authority over the child. This is the parent’s role.
In education, parents and school are a team, and in that relationship, we must remember the rights of parents are fundamental. Parents are legally, economically, and morally responsible for their children. Legally, minors can make some decisions without a parent’s consent, so teachers have to carefully balance this care between state laws and a parent’s desire to be kept in the loop.
While there are no perfect parents or guardians, they should be the foremost educators in the life of our students because (hopefully) no one knows or loves the child more completely than the mother, father, or other legal guardian.
This requires us to notify parents about any vital information regarding the student’s decisions and well-being. Often, however, schools misinterpret bills as “laws.” Or they don’t research them sufficiently enough to understand what is and isn’t allowed. In some cases, to protect ourselves and others, we can commit overkill by encouraging co-workers to practice privacy on all issues, rather than just what’s required by law. But one California attorney unpacks it better, pointing out that if a school staff member is concerned about a student based on their observations or interactions with the student, the employee may disclose that concern to parents or guardians without violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Permission from parents is required for field trips, testing, sports participation, and more, all practical examples of the foundational rights of parents. We teachers should also notify parents about grades, discipline issues, attendance, and health issues.
And there are many other topics on which parents must be informed in a timely manner, if not immediately as long as it’s from a credible source and legally allowed. Teachers can be a great resource for encouraging students to talk to parents themselves so we don’t always have to be the mediator. As long as we follow up with the parent to ensure they were advised. This vital communication includes but is not limited to:
- Evidence of physical harm,
- Bullying or harassment (in-person or online),
- Obvious emotional distress,
- Symptoms of mental health issues,
- Sexual activity,
- Gender-related issues,
- Activity that may be contrary to the family’s moral/religious beliefs, if known.
While we teachers can strive to be friends and confidants to our students, we must also work as a team with parents, never against them. Being part of this village means communicating with parents as much as possible while still upholding school board policies and state privacy laws.
Sometimes people on a team disagree when making decisions. In those cases, teachers and administrators can give their professional perspective, but unless the parents are neglectful or abusive, the buck often stops with the parent.
Sometimes, depending on the age and circumstance, the child should be included in these discussions, as well—but not always.
In the case of a life-altering decision, often students are too undeveloped mentally and emotionally to be included in every discussion. Sometimes, the parent needs to make a decision independent of the child, (bringing the student into the conversation at a later point).
When school personnel keep vital information about the child from the parents, it causes several issues. First, it undermines the ability of the school and parents to work as a team and harms the trust between members.
Second, the parents can’t make the best decision without all the available information, so this ultimately hurts our students.
Third, keeping parents in the dark establishes a dangerous precedent–communicating that we know better than the parents.
It does take a village, and parents are at the center of making the village work. Let’s help our students flourish by ensuring parents are kept apprised of all vital information. For more helpful information, check out our article on The Challenges of Handling Difficult Parents.
About the Author
Britt Mooney has taught in private and public schools in the US and an international school in South Korea. He currently works for a coffee company, writes fantasy novels, and lives in the Atlanta, GA area with his wife and three kids.