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Parental Observations in the Public School Classroom

In the Facebook group, IEP/504 Assistance, we have been seeing a lot of discussion on a parent’s right to visit or observe their child in the classroom.

Does a parent have an automatic right to observe his/her child in the classroom, and do schools have to secure written consent from the parents of other students in the classroom before the parent can observe his/her child in the classroom?


IDEA does not say anything on the matter. Odd, isn’t it?

While the IDEA expects parents of children with disabilities to have an expanded role in the evaluation and educational placement of their children and be participants, along with school personnel, in developing, reviewing, and revising the IEPs for their children, neither the statute nor the regulations implementing the IDEA provide a general entitlement for parents of children with disabilities, or their professional representatives, to observe their children in any current classroom or proposed educational placement. The determination of who has access to classrooms may be addressed by State and/or local policy. However, we encourage school district personnel and parents to work together in ways that meet the needs of both the parents and the school, ***including providing opportunities for parents to observe their children’s classrooms and proposed placement options***. In addition, there may be circumstances in which access may need to be provided. For example, if parents invoke their right to an independent educational evaluation of their child, and the evaluation requires observing the child in the educational placement, the evaluator may need to be provided access to the placement.  [Letter to Mamas, 42 IDELR 10 (OSEP 2004)]

Section 8101 Definitions
(39) PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT- The term ‘parental involvement’ means the participation of parents in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities, including ensuring —
(A) that parents play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning;
(B) that parents are encouraged to be actively involved in their child’s education at school;
(C) that parents are full partners in their child’s education and are included, as appropriate, in decision making and on advisory committees to assist in the education of their child;
(D) the carrying out of other activities, such as those described in Section 1116.
Section 1116 Parent and Family Engagement
[…] each school served under this part shall jointly develop with parents for all children served under this part a school-parent compact. […] Such compact shall —
(2) address the importance of communication between teachers and parents on an ongoing basis through, at a minimum —
(A) parent-teacher conferences in elementary schools, at least annually, during which the compact shall be discussed as the compact relates to the individual child’s achievement;
(B) frequent reports to parents on their children’s progress; and
(C) reasonable access to staff, opportunities to volunteer and participate in their child’s class, and observation of classroom activities; and
(D) ensuring regular two-way, meaningful communication between family members and school staff, and to the extent practicable, in a language that family members can understand.

Observations versus FERPA/student confidentiality

Schools are implementing more barriers than ever.
These procedures include:
  • limiting the length and number of visits
  • requiring a request to the principal before a visit
  • requiring a conference with the teacher to determine a day and time
In some cases, the school will not allow observations during instructional time.
In one case, the school required the “observation” take place after the students left.

The school says the rationale behind the policies is the need to limit disruption to instructional time. State regulations address disruptions. Attorneys tell schools that this is easier to defend.

These “policies” are often developed by administrators who want to limit parent contact and parental involvement. There is not any law that supports them that I am aware of at this time.

Parents report that they are not allowed to observe or visit their child’s classroom, or they must agree to stringent limits (e.g. 30 minutes once a month after notice xx weeks in advance).

Parents are told that “the law” requires
schools to deny parent requests to observe their child’s class because this would violate the rights of other students. The only law that deals with confidentiality is
Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA regulates education records, nothing more.

Parents report that paper is taped over glass windows in doors of special ed classes to “protect student privacy.” Parents report that they are not allowed to attend school events (e.g. holiday parties, field trips) because this would violate the privacy rights of other students.

Are the parents of non-disabled kids having the same problems? I don’t think so, but don’t know so.
Bottom line: Courts have held that school children have very few “privacy rights.” Children with disabilities do not have greater privacy rights than non-disabled kids. These policies seem to be at odds with IDEA’s requirements regarding parental participation – or the spirit of the law. ESSA also includes requirements about increasing parental participation, not discouraging or forbidding it.
Since there is no legal justification for these policies, where to start?
When a school administrator takes this position, it creates an appearance of two things and both are bad:
  • that the program is clearly not appropriate and the parent will quickly discover this, and
  • that the school is attempting to keep important information from parents.

Many Hearing Officers and Administrative Law Judges would view the refusal to allow the parent to observe as grounds to find that the proposed placement was not appropriate.

If parents cannot observe their child’s classroom because they would see other children, then parents could not go into the school for other reasons – to help supervise on field trips and to help teachers with holiday parties. Parents would not be able to pick up their children from school because they would see other children.
Under the guise of protecting student “rights to confidentiality,” parents would be forbidden from participating in any school activities. Do parents participate in other activities at your child’s school? Do parents pick their children up from school? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then this not does support the special ed director’s position that she has to protect students’ privacy.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in
Owasso v. Falvo reiterated that public school students have no expectation of privacy.

FERPA does not specifically prohibit a parent or professional working with the parent from observing the parent’s child in the classroom. This is because FERPA would generally prohibit a teacher from disclosing information from a child’s education records to other students in the classroom, as well as prohibit a teacher from disclosing information from a child’s education records to the parents of another child who might be observing the classroom. Further, FERPA does not protect the confidentiality of information in general; rather, FERPA applies to the disclosure of tangible records and of information derived from tangible records. [Letter to Mamas, 106 LRP 15971 (Family Policy Compliance Office 2003)]

Accordingly, no parental consent from the parents of other students in the classroom is required before a parent can observe his/her child in the classroom.

In a 1995 case about drug testing of student-athletes, the U. S. Supreme Court found that public school children have lower privacy expectations than other people because they require constant supervision and control.

Other options?

The school should not do anything to discourage parents who are concerned enough for their child that they are asking to observe their child in the classroom. There is nothing in the law to support that stance. If, after strong advocating to be allowed an observation period, you are still denied here are a few options:
  • Ask to meet with the teacher for a private conference concerning your child
  • Call an IEP meeting and request additional assessments, supports, and services to help your child
  • Hire a professional to go in and observe your child to try and address your concerns
I hope this post has been helpful.  I hope I supplied you with useful information on how to solve the dilemma if the school is refusing your ability to conduct a classroom observation. Please take the time to click on the links in the post as it contains the reference material used to write this post along with affiliate links to products that may be of interest to you. As always, you are welcome to join us for more discussion on shoe tying, adaptive skills, and/or occupational therapy in the educational setting at our FB group, IEP/504 Assistance for parents of public school students from all over the United States. 

PASEN also runs a special needs homeschool group,
Homeschooling Special (Needs) Kids, and we also have a group for all parents and caregivers of special needs children called Special Needs Parenting Advice and Support where we discuss ALL things related to special needs care and Educating Gifted Children is where we discuss topics concerning gifted children and those that are twice exceptional (2e).  I hope to see you there! 
Michelle Reed-Harris

Michelle Reed-Harris

CEO and Advocate

Michelle Reed-Harris is the mother of six children including surviving quadruplets. Her frustration with doctors and educators led her on a quest to learn about all the facets that touch the quads lives as children with disabilities. In the process, she gained a lot of useful information she could share with others so she started a Facebook group focusing on special education advocacy. The group quickly grew to over 6,000+ members. Recognizing the overwhelming need for assistance, she founded a nonprofit, AESA, allowing her to provide support, advice, and advocacy to parents with children who are outside the (Bell) curve.

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