Friday, July 22, 2011

Non-Custodial Parents and School Access

The most common complaint I have received from parents is specifically that the custodial parent has not been providing copies of report cards and other school communications or that the school will not allow direct access. These complaints have not missed the attention of the Domestic Relations Committee that is currently amending the Indiana parenting Time Guidelines [IPTG]

First, here is what the IPTG stipulate to parents regarding school communications:
Section (D)(1) School Records. Each parent shall promptly provide the other with copies of a child’s grade reports and notices from school as they are received. A parent shall not interfere with the right of the other parent to communicate directly with school
personnel concerning a child.

Most Non-Custodial Parents [NCP] believe that the obligation is upon the custodial parent to always obtain and then provide copies of school records and communications to the NCP. However, this responsibility in placed upon both parents, not just the custodial parent. This is important to know because failure to do so can result in a finding of contempt by the court.

The right to access school records does not originate under the IPTG. Instead it is a statutory right. The Commentary to the previously quoted section of the IPTG provides this information:
Under Indiana law, both parents are entitled to direct access to their child’s school records, Indiana Code ' 20-33-7-2.

This is a lucid statement; yet to school administrators it is often esoteric. Here is a quick analysis of that statement; 1) It refers to a law; 2) The law gives parents a right;, and; 3) That right is to access “their child's school records”. Categorically, Done!

When I have confronted some school administrators about this I have been told that after consultation with the school's legal counsel that I would receive a decision. My patronizing response usually includes a comment about obfuscating their “educational” job. Soon after, the expected response comes; just tell the parent to come in, the records are available.

Similar to school records is participation in school activities. The IPTG stipulates the following:
Section (D)(2) School Activities. Each parent shall promptly notify the other parent of all school activities. A parent shall not interfere with the right of the other parent to communicate directly with school personnel concerning a child’s school activities. The parent exercising parenting time shall be responsible to transport the child to school related activities.

Again, this is a lucid statement. The Commentary provides additional clarity:
The opportunity for a child to attend a school function should not be denied solely because a parent is not able to attend the function. In such instance, the child should be permitted to attend the function with the available parent. Scheduled parenting time should not be used as an excuse to deny the child’s participation in school related activities, including practices and rehearsals.

This responsibility goes both ways. The NCP should not deny the child the opportunity to participate in a school function and may be forced to relinquish some parenting time to allow the custodial parent to facilitate the child's participation. Equally, the custodial parent may need to offer to the NCP the opportunity to facilitate the child's participation.

Sometimes the complaint to me has played out in a manner like this: I went on-line and found out that my son is going to the museum and parent chaperones are needed, that his grades in three classes went down and that parent/teacher conferences are now being scheduled. His mother told me about none of this. Doesn't that violate the IPTG? I want to have her found in contempt. This ludicrous scenario is usually the result of an insatiable desire for retribution brought on by resentment towards the other parent. Something the child doesn't need to be brought into.

The scenario is not lost on judges, practitioners nor the Domestic Relations Committee that is currently revising the IPTG. So, I direct you to the introduction to the section about the exchange of information:
A child may suffer inconvenience, embarrassment, and physical or emotional harm when parents fail to actively obtain and share information. Parents should take the initiative to obtain information about their child from the various providers of services.

Here the writers have stipulated as to why “parents” need to “actively obtain and share information” about their child's school records, activities and other activities. The irony of the parent seeking contempt for not receiving information received won't be lost on a judicial officer and may result not only in not getting the desired result of a contempt citation but a stern lecture from the bench about parental responsibility and additionally the possibility of having attorney fees assessed against the parent bringing the contempt action.

The DRC has proposed changing some of the language in the IPTG relating to the exchange of information to reflect the expanding technological capabilities of schools and community organizations and to also promote greater involvement with the schools and the child's activities by both parents.

The proposed language will seek to encompass the following concepts; that each parent is responsible to establish direct relationship with school; that each parent should obtain school information on their own without depending on the other parent; and that the parent with knowledge of the event should promptly inform the other parent of the date, time and place of the event. It is their belief that if a parent feels that doing this is such an onus then that parent isn't really servile enough to the children to be acting in their best interest.

To resolve an additional complaint that the child's school registration is devoid of any mention of the NCP in an effort to alienate that parent from the child or school the DRC has proposed adding this requirement:
The noncustodial parent shall be listed as an emergency contact unless there are special circumstances concerning child endangerment.

As I tell most of these parents who bring this type of complaint about communication to me their focus should be on the child. They apparently discovered the necessary information on their own. Do they feel it is necessary to condescend the other parent or can they rise above, take the initiative, be the bigger person, be the proactive parent who takes the initiative with the school and their child's needs?

It is going to happen whether they can. It is not an onerous task to get involved with their child's school unless that school is intentionally circumscribing itself from you. It is the responsible thing to do for all parents to do and the sagacious have already done.

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©2008, 2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.


Ashley said...

Yeah right, in a perfect world this would all happen. My husband has take his ex to court numerous times because she refuses to comply with giving him report cards, the judge yells at her, then either gives her more money or him less parenting time with his children who want to live, love and be with him desperately, but because he isn't the mother, he isn't given that oppertunity...

Ashley said...

he'e down to eight weeks a YEAR now, all because he's in the Army and they moved him to Tennessee, so its either have a good job and pay your child support or quit so you can be with your kids and not pay child support, and let me tell ya, his cheating, lying ex is laughing all the way to the bank with it....