I’ve been hearing this one frequently lately. And unfortunately, this issue often brings out the pitchfork crowds and a plethora of bad advice.
So, rather than having parents pursue options that aren’t really options….wanted to give you some clarity and options on what to do. Rather than follow the chants of “That’s illegal, it’s your right!” let’s take a moment and think this through.
What can you do if you want to observe the classroom, and the school says no?
Whenever I hear parents say that they want to observe the classroom, I have the same inner alarms go off as when a parent asks, “Is that teacher even qualified?”
Questions to ask:
- What do I hope to gain by observing the classroom?
- Is there another way to obtain this data or information?
- Will my observation be an accurate picture of daily school activities?
Is it your right to visit the classroom?
My son’s elementary school has over 800 students. Imagine if every parent wanted to visit and observe the classroom! What a major disruption that would be.
But my child has special needs. Ok, I hear you. Even using just the kids with IEPs, that’s probably about 150 kids in the school. With the PA school year only 180 days, that means that just about every day, there could be a parent in the school observing.
If your child sees you, they likely are not going to act as they usually do. Their behavior will either be better or worse, but it’s not very likely that it will be business as usual. Also, if staff know you are coming, or even once they see you arrive, it is likely that they will be on their best behavior. If you planned a “gotcha!” you’re not likely to get it.
Whether or not you think it is, I’m telling you that it is disruptive for parents to visit classrooms. Even my typical child notices this, and will tell me the days that the principal came in to observe the classroom.
Check your school’s policy. If they have a visitation policy, follow it. If they don’t have one, ask the principal what it is.
Is it your “right” to visit the classroom? I guess it would be bad PR and it would appear that they are hiding something if they don’t allow it. That isn’t necessarily the case. They likely just do not want the disruption of parents coming in, and that is reasonable.
For argument’s sake, let’s say it is your “right.” Ok, now what? Almost all disability and special ed law is complaint based, which means that nothing happens until a citizen files a formal complaint. So you’re going to have to look up your state regs and do just that. Or contact an attorney. Is this really the way you want to proceed?
You know what? I don’t want my son’s school day interrupted by you visiting either. If my son started reporting that there was frequently a parent standing in the corner watching, I’d have a problem with that and would likely contact the teacher.
What information are you trying to get?
What do you hope to learn? What is it that you want to see? I would brainstorm of other ways to obtain that information. Or, if your child has a home behavior team, they often can go in and observe in a more clinical manner with less disruption. Also, as a special education advocate I have gone into classrooms to observe what is going on. You may want to consider that.
You may just want to brainstorm or strategize on some SDIs or supports to help your child in the classroom. That’s certainly reasonable, but see if there is a way you can do it without disrupting the classroom.
Bottom line…..most of the time that I hear parents wanting to observe and being prohibited from doing so, it’s due to a lack of trust. The parent does not trust the teacher, the 1:1, the team…someone at the school. In my experience, you going in for 30-60 minutes to watch the classroom is not going to change that.
Look deeper within and ask yourself why there is this mistrust? Is it lack of progress? Is it your child telling you of things going on? Better to just confront those head on: “My child is reporting XYZ, and I would like us to meet to see what we can do to resolve it.” Keep it focused on what your child is or isn’t receiving, rather than what staff are or aren’t doing.
I’ve looked, and cannot find any case law behind this to tell you if this is your right. It is mentioned in ESSA, but not clarified as far as terms or circumstances.
But, is this the hill you want to die on? Once you start arguing and pushing for the right to observe the classroom (which in my experience is not going to be valuable anyway) you have changed the focus. The focus is no longer on your child’s needs, but you wanting to watch the classroom. I prefer to keep the focus on my child.
My guess is that this is not the hill they want to die on either, and will eventually concede to allowing you to observe even if they’ve previously said no. But, they do not have to allow it unannounced and you should not expect that. Again, I do not think you will get the information you are seeking, and you could damage your relationship with the school in the process.
Other things you may want to try instead:
- a private meeting with just the teacher (and 1:1 if they have one)
- meet with your child’s school/home behaviorist about this
- look into other evaluations that might give you the data you need
- meet with your child and ask them what they think
- brainstorm with other parents
- read over lists of SDIs and suggestions
As a parent of a child with an IEP and a taxpayer myself….I also have rights. I have the right to expect that my kids’ classrooms are run well and with limited disruptions. I do not think that merely being a taxpayer and/or having an IEP gives you carte blanche access to your kids’ classrooms whenever you want, and for however as long as you want. I do not think that is reasonable. Someone once commented “well, I don’t want my kids in a school where I’m not welcome!” It’s not a matter of being welcome. I’m sure you’re welcome, but are you being reasonable about it? In either of my kids’ classrooms, I don’t want a constant parade of parents observing them. And that is a reasonable request. Because very likely, the information you are seeking can be obtained without disrupting my kids’ school days. And that’s something to consider too.
Good luck with whatever you choose!