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Buffalo ReformED 605 Niagara Street Buffalo, New York 14201 www.BuffaloReformED.com
GET INFORMED GET ENGAGED GET RESULTS
Buffalo ReformED is an education reform advocacy organization that brings together parents, teachers, business leaders, and community stakeholders and aims to revitalize Buffalo through an improved education system. Buffalo ReformED supports and promotes an education reform agenda that is parent-driven and always puts students first.
Understanding and Exercising Your Rights as a Parent
GET ENGAGED IN EDUCATION
Parent engagement in education is one of the most crucial factors to school success. Parents, teachers, principals, and other school administrators must work together to create the best learning environment for all students. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” This guide provides an overview of the rights and responsibilities of parents of school-aged children, as well as an introduction to some of the resources available to parents to become engaged and active in their child‟s education. Laws and regulations at the local, state and national levels recognize the importance of parent engagement in the education process and create many opportunities for parent‟s to work with schools and school districts. These laws give parents access to key information about schools, allow them a forum to have their voice heard, and encourage them to become engaged in making key decisions. This guide helps equip parents with the tools necessary to make an impact.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
As a parent or guardian of a school-aged child, you have numerous rights allowing you to have an active and engaged role in your child‟s education. These basic rights include: The right to visit your child‟s school The right to request, view, and amend many of your child‟s school records The right to receive information about the safety and performance of your child‟s school and school district The right to receive information about the credentials of your child‟s teachers The right to regularly communicate with your child‟s teachers, principal, and other school personnel The right to join and participate in parent engagement groups, such as the DPCC or your school‟s PTO The right to engage in shared decision making with school personnel This guide expands on these basic rights and provides the outlets needed to exercise them.
The most important right for parents is the right of access to information about their child and their schools. In order to be effectively engaged in decisions that impact their child, parents must first be equipped with the necessary information. A number of federal and state laws provide parents and students rights to request access to records, as well as rights to amend and protect that information.
school must accommodate the request for access in some other way. FERPA also provides parents and students the right to request that inaccurate or misleading records be amended. This right does not extend to changing the content of subjective records, such as grades or disciplinary infractions. A school must respond to a request to amend a record, but is not forced to grant every amendment. If the school denies the request, however, they must provide the parent or student a hearing on the decision, and if the parent or student is ultimately denied an amendment, they must be permitted to attach a „comment‟ to the record in dispute in the student‟s permanent file. Finally, FERPA requires schools to protect student record information by permitting disclosure of student records in only limited circumstances. Parents and students have the right to lodge a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education whenever they believe they have been denied access to records, denied the right to request an amendment, or when the school has wrongfully disclosed a student record. For more information on the rights of parents to request access to school records, see Buffalo Board of Education Policies 7240 through 7250.
Rights of Access to Records
The Family Education Rights Protection Act (FERPA) is a key tool to providing parents information about their child‟s school experience. FERPA ensures that parents and students have access to records kept by schools regarding the student. A parent has the right to request access to the school‟s records, including academic, attendance and discipline records. The school must respond to the request within 45 days. The school has the responsibility to provide access in the most convenient and reasonable way. Copied records, translated if necessary, is the most preferable method, however if this option is not practical then the
Attendance Policies and Records
Under New York Education Law regulations, each school district must provide parents with an annual „plain language summary‟ of the district‟s attendance policy. By law, parents also have the right to request the school notify them regarding their child‟s absence from school. Parents and students also have a right to have their student‟s attendance appropriately and correctly recorded. Attendance records can be requested and accessed under FERPA. The Board has numerous „notification‟ requirements to ensure that students and parents are informed of the attendance rules and requirements. The District‟s policies are available through the District website; the attendance policies must also be provided to students and parents. Parents may also request access to their school‟s attendance policies. For more information about the District‟s attendance policies, see Buffalo Board of Education Policy 7110.
Discipline Policies and Records
Many of the State and District policies related to student discipline deal only with suspensions. The use disciplinary alternatives is left primarily to building level administrators. The District‟s policies ensure parents are notified when and why a student is to be disciplined. The policies typically do not guide the use of discipline, instead leaving that authority up to principals and teachers. Under the District‟s policies, parents are guaranteed notice and information when a student is to be suspended. The student or parent has the right to be informed why they are being suspended; they also have the right to request an informal conference. Parents should request, and principals should encourage, the teacher also attends the disciplinary conference. Parents should also consider asking a parent facilitator or another parent to attend the conference with them. Under state and federal laws, students must be suspended for a minimum period of time for certain violent offenses, especially bringing weapons onto school grounds. Beyond this requirement, the use of discipline is left up to building principals and teachers.
Teachers have the authority to remove disruptive students from their classroom, however the teacher must inform the student and the principal the reason for the removal; the principal is then responsible for informing the student‟s parents and, upon request of the parent, must allow for an informal conference. Parents should request, and principals should encourage, that the teacher attend any informal disciplinary conference with the student. For more information on disciplinary policies, see School Board Policies 7310 through 7340. Under the District‟s site-based management team plan, SBMTs are specifically given the authority to review the District‟s discipline policies and amend them to fit their particular school. Building-specific disciplinary policies should be a particular focus of site-based management teams (SBMTs).
criminal offense on school grounds, have the right to have their child moved to a safe school. This right is also guaranteed by New York Education Law §2802(7). Parents also have the right to review and publicly comment on the District‟s school safety plan, which must be reviewed annually. School districts are required to annually review and update as necessary their safety plans by October 1; they must hold a public hearing on the plan prior to this date. Though building-level safety plans are confidential, the district must provide parents at the school with a summary of the plan. For more information about the District‟s safety policies, see School Board Policies 5680 through 5682.
One of the key parts of No Child Left Behind is the requirement that states publish “report cards” for all schools and school districts within the state. New York has created a readable and accessible report card for each school and school district, however the content of the report cards can be overwhelming. Report cards include the school or school district‟s performance on assessments in various subjects and grade levels, list the „accountability‟ status of each school (meaning whether,
As part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), school districts have a responsibility to notify parents when a school has been identified as “persistently dangerous.” Parents at a “persistently dangerous” school, as well as parents of a student who has been the victim of a violent
and for how many years, a school has failed to make adequate progress), and provide basic demographic information about the district. The Buffalo City School District provides links to each year‟s reports through their Shared Accountability office; more information can be requested from New York‟s State Education Office of Information and Reporting Services. Though complicated, the State report cards are invaluable resources of information about the school and school district. The report card is the starting point to understanding a school‟s „accountability‟ status, which indicates what types of intervention the district must take in the school to make improvements. Schools that consistently fail to make adequate progress receive increasing degrees of assistance and intervention from the district in order to make improvement. After five consecutive years of failing to make adequate progress, schools may be restructured. Parents of students at failing schools have the right under NCLB to transfer their child to another school. Under the proposed Parent Trigger Act, parents would be able to select a restructuring option and petition the school district to use the selected plan. More information about „accountability status‟ of schools and school and district report cards is available from the New York State Education Department.
Federal, State and District laws, regulations and policies ensure that students and parents have significant access to information about their school and school district; the usefulness of this information, however, is up to the parent. All the information about a school‟s performance, discipline policy, or safety plan is only as useful and powerful as the individual making use of it. Education laws and District policies also establish methods through which parents can become engaged with their schools; parents must make the most of these opportunities if they want to create a meaningful impact. Parent engagement can occur at various levels and through a number of avenues. Engagement can be as informal as calling, e-mailing, or visiting the student‟s teachers and principal, or as persistent as joining a sitebased management team (SBMT) or the District Parent Coordinating Council (DPCC). It can range from requesting specific information from a school or the District, bringing a complaint up to a teacher or administrator, speaking in front of a Board meeting, or petitioning for a specific course of action. This section identifies some of the ways to become engaged.
Communicating with Teachers, Principals
Though the District‟s policies do not create a specific approach for parents to communicate directly with their child‟s teachers and principal, every parent has a basic right to a working relationship with the professionals who educate their children. The District‟s policies, though vague, do seek to involve parents in the education of their children. Parents can play a key part in encouraging cooperation of the District by bringing a positive and collaborative approach to interactions with teachers and principals. Though parents should be able to have informal and regular communication with their children‟s teachers, they also should not shy away from using more formal and structured means of engagement if and when necessary.
must balance this against the needs of the „educational process.‟ Both parents and school personnel must keep this in mind when handling school visits. While school personnel should be courteous and accommodating to visitors, visitors must also recognize that the school requires structure, discipline and continuity. Board policies require all visitors to report to a central office and notify the administration of their purpose. The teachers‟ contract echoes this, requiring all classroom visitors to consult with the teacher first. These requirements can, at first, seem condescending and belittling. If the visitor thinks about the need of the school to promote the „educational process,‟ however, it should be clear how unannounced visitors can interrupt student learning. Parents and other guests should bear in mind the students‟ needs for order and structure when planning visits. For more information about visitors to schools, see Board Policy 3210.
The District policies on school visitations attempt to balance the desires of parents and others to be present in the school with the school‟s need for order and structure. The Board views visits as constructive, but
Formal and Informal Conferences
Conferences between parents and teachers or other school personnel, whether formal or informal, can be very useful and productive options. Scheduling a set time to speak to a school official on a specific issue can greatly improve the lines of communication. When both
parties know what will be discussed and have an opportunity to prepare in advance, the issue can be solved through collaboration. Effective use of conferencing requires both parents and school personnel to be accommodating to one another, which can be a difficult task. For parents, a calm and controlled approach is necessary. Parents should consider working with their school‟s site-based management team or with their school‟s DPCC representative to act as a „middle man‟ to keep the process structured and cooperative.
Teacher Organization (PTO), which focuses on building a school culture and fundraising for various schoolspecific projects. Parents can also look to join their schools Site-Based Management Team (SBMT). The District created SBMTs to meet the parent engagement requirement of NCLB; these teams are to be made up of parents, teachers, and the principal, as well as other key stakeholders the team thought necessary. Each SBMT is tasked with making real, meaningful decisions for each school, has the authority to amend the District discipline policy to the individual school and to monitor and amend the school‟s improvement plan. Largely because of the push back of building-level professionals, however, SBMTs have not been able to achieve all they were designed for. The effectiveness of SBMTs is one area where parents should be standing firm in their demands for meaningful involvement and should be defending their legal rights. Under NCLB, districts must improve parent engagement; Buffalo chose to do this by delegating specific powers and responsibilities to SBMTs. Parents therefore have a right to a SBMT at their school and also a right to have a functional team. At the district level, parents can become engaged with the District Parent Coordinating Council (DPCC).
Join a Parent Engagement Group
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) made improving parent engagement a key goal for schools and school districts. NCLB called for school districts to not only work to improve the information parents received from schools, but also to involve parents in real and meaningful decision making at the school level. NCLB also sets aside funding for Districts to improve parent engagement. There are several groups that gather parents together to have a collective impact on their schools and the district. At the school level, parents can join a Parent
The DPCC is a district wide parent organization made up of representatives from each school in the district. Its aim is to ensure successful partnership between parents and the board of education in order to ensure high academic achievement for all students. The DPCC meets the first Tuesday of the month, and addresses issues such as health, safety, parent engagement, policy, and advocacy. Most schools have a designated parent facilitator or DPCC representative that can work with parents on school-level issues and connect them with the DPCC. The DPCC should be contacted for more information about the organization as well as PTOs and SBMTs. The DPCC‟s website is http://www.buffalodpcc.org/
members at general meetings. The public comment period does not permit for a conversation with the Board and the public cannot comment on the actual business on the agenda. Moreover, the meeting‟s agenda is not made publicly available prior to the meeting; therefore the public is left with little knowledge of what will be addressed at the meeting. Despite the Board‟s policies, speaking at a general Board meeting, especially as an organized group of speakers, can be an effective way of capturing the Board‟s attention when it comes to large, overarching problems in the District. Public comments on smaller, day-to-day operational issues, however, will be less effective, and may actually derail efforts to address the issue at the proper administrative level. On occasion, the Board encourages parents and the public to attend and speak up at committee meetings, where the “real work” of the Board is done. These meetings too, however, are set up in such a way that real public input and discussion is limited. Committee meetings take place on alternating Wednesdays of the weeks in between general Board meetings; a particular week‟s committees can be seen on the District‟s calendar. Two or three committee meetings are lined up back to back and agendas for the meetings are not made public until right before the meeting. As a result, even
Engaging with the Board of Education
In theory, the policies of the Board of Education encourage parent and public involvement general and committee meetings; in practice, however, the Board does little to actually promote such involvement. At general Board meetings, public comment is permitted at the beginning of the meeting, with a brief comment from the Superintendent in response. Board members rarely, directly engage with parents or community
people who do wish to be involved and informed do not know what will be discussed, or when specific items will be addressed. Individuals wishing to speak at a Board meeting must contact the Board of Education at either (716) 8163567 or (716) 816-3568 by noon of the Tuesday immediately preceding the Wednesday of the meeting the individual wishes to speak at. The individual must state what they wish to speak on. In the interest of time management, each speaker is limited to three minutes. Under the current policies, if more than 30 individuals register to speak at a single meeting, the Board President can either waive the 30-speaker limit, or call a special meeting to hear all speakers. The policies do not spell out any registration requirements for speaking at committee meetings. Parents and the public should bear in mind that the Board of Education‟s responsibility is long-term planning and performance of the District, not ordinary operations of the schools. The day-to-day operations of the District are entrusted to the Superintendent and the administrative staff; therefore, the vast majority of issues and concerns should be directed to the administration, not to the Board.
Though complicated, State and Federal rules, laws and regulations and District policies do provide access to vital information about the operations and performance of the schools and school district and do create avenues for parent engagement. Undoubtedly these rules and policies could be improved. In the meantime, however, the usefulness of all these rules and policies depend upon the dedication and commitment of the public and, most importantly, the parents. The tools to make real and meaningful improvements are available; it just takes some hard work and persistence to see through the process.
Board Policy Reference
Access to Student Records Access to District Records Attendance Board Meeting Speaker List Busing and Transportation FERPA Rights Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Graduation Requirements Parent Involvement Public Conduct on School Grounds School Safety Plan Searches of Students Student Conduct and Discipline Student Privacy Student Evaluation Title I Programs ELL Instruction 7240-7250 3310 7110-7150 1513; 1530 5710-5730 7240 3310 7220-7223 3170; 8260 3410-3430 5680-5682 7330 7310-7340 7250 7210 8260 8280
Resources and Organizations
Buffalo Public Schools 8th Floor, City Hall www.buffaloschools.org New York State Education Department www.nysed.gov (518) 474-3862 United States Department of Education http://www.ed.gov/ 1-800-USA-LEARN District Parent Coordinating Council 347 East Ferry Street www.buffaloDPCC.org Buffalo Parent Connection www.facebook.com/BuffaloParentConnection Buffalo ReformED www.BuffaloReformED.com Twitter: @BuffaloReformED Buffalo News ‘School Zone’ Blog http://blogs.buffalonews.com/school_zone/ Twitter: @SchoolZoneBlog
Buffalo School District Hierarchy Chart
Board of Education
Assoc. Superintendent of School, Family & Comm. Relations Building Principal
Assoc. Superintendent of Education Services
Department Leader Counselors
Teacher Teacher Aides