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Definition of a Parent

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) defines a parent as follows:
  • The term parent is defined as a natural parent, a guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a natural parent or a guardian. (34 CFR 99.3)
  • The U.S. Department of Education has expanded the definition above to include stepparents.  A stepparent has the right to view educational records if the stepparent lives in the home with the child.  Additionally, the stepparent has the right to review the student's records through the parent portal.
  •  Under the IDEA regulations (34 C.F.R. 300.20), a parent is defined as a natural or adoptive parent of a child, a guardian (not the state if the child is a ward of the state), a person acting in the place of a parent (such as a grandparent or stepparent with whom the child lives, or a person who is legally responsible for the child's welfare), or a surrogate parent who has been appointed in accordance with Section 300.515.
  •  Schools should set up parent teacher conferences with the natural parents.  If a mother or father of a student brings a stepparent to the parent teacher conference, the school may proceed with the conference.  If only the stepparent arrives for the conference, the school should attempt  to reschedule a time when the natural parent is available since the stepparent does not have custodial rights (unless custodial rights have been awarded).  The stepparent may have rights to individually participate in special education meetings.  However, if the other parent objects to the presence of the stepparent, ask the parent to address those issues in their family law dispute.
  •  Stepparents  may  pick up and drop off students on the days that their spouse has court appointed parenting time if permission has been stated on the permission slips signed by the custodial parent they are married to.  The same may apply to a girlfriend or boyfriend.
  •  Girlfriends and boyfriends of parents do not have rights to view student records under FERPA or to participate in meetings apart from the custodial parent.  District staff should communicate only with the custodial parent.  For example, a father can authorize a girlfriend to pick the child up from school.  He may share information with the girlfriend if he chooses to do so, but the school should not share information with the girlfriend. If the father chooses to bring his girlfriend to teacher conferences as his guest, the school may allow the conference to proceed. 

  • If a father or mother cannot come into the school office to complete registration/enrollment documents due to work schedule, can the stepparent complete the enrollment documents?
    • No, FERPA protections do not extend to enrollment.  Unless the stepparent has guardianship, the student's mother or father should sign the paperwork to enroll.  

  • Can stepparents, grandparents, and other caregivers be considered parents under FERPA?​
    • In some cases, a stepparent may be considered a “parent” under FERPA if the stepparent is present on a day-to-day basis with the natural parent and child, and the other parent is absent from the home.  Conversely, a stepparent who is not present on a day-to-day basis in the home of the child does not have rights under FERPA with respect to the child’s education records.  A grandparent or other caregiver who is acting in the absence of the parent(s) may also be considered a “parent” under FERPA.   (Source: 34 CFR § 99.3)  

  • How do I know when a stepparent would be considered "present on a day-to-day basis"?
    • The custodial documents will indicate the natural parent and/or guardian's parenting time or "custody".  If the natural parent or guardian has the student residing with them, and the other natural parent or guardian has specific parenting times (two weeks in the summer, Spring and Fall Break, Mother's Day or Father's Day, every other holiday, etc.), this would signify that the students live with one parent the majority of the time.  If custody is "split" where the student lives one week with the mother and one week with the father, the stepparent would NOT fall under the "full-time" stepparent guidelines.

  • How do I know they are actually "married"?
    • The District can only rely on what the natural parent and/or guardian states on the enrollment documents.  If the documents state "stepparent", the person should be treated as a stepparent.