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Rochelle’s Special Education Tips

Observations and E-Mails-Another Reminder

Here is my observation on observations and an e-mail on the problem with e-mails.

Observations: Every school system needs to have an observation policy/procedure/guideline. It does not matter where the rule is located. You just need to have one. It should include (1) the number of observations permitted and (2) the length of each observation. While there is no right for a parent or parent’s expert/advocate to observe, in almost all cases, it is a good practice to allow some observation so long as it will not disrupt the classroom. (In some situations, such as a self-contained behavior oriented class, an observation may need to be shortened or prohibited if the presence of an outsider is upsetting to the classroom routine.) Otherwise, it looks like the school system is hiding something. But there needs to be some control over observations. Otherwise, you will be dealing with parents who want to regularly and perhaps obsessively observe or send in their observers for half-day or full-day observations. Often, this occurs as a parent is considering going to a due process hearing or when a hearing has been scheduled. Observations are often upsetting and disruptive for the classroom teacher(s). Would you want someone to be sitting in your office, listening to every word you say, and taking notes about you, for hours? Your observation rule may be limited to one (1) observation per month or per marking period, for up to one (1) hour per observation. Your rule should include a prohibition against taping or video recording the observation, talking to the teacher(s), or talking to the students. The observer, whether the observer is a parent or third party, should always be accompanied by an administrator, who should take notes on the observation. The classroom teacher should always be notified of the observation ahead of time and if the teacher says a particular day is not a good day for the observation, do not schedule the observation for that day. In fact, if an observation is scheduled for a day that turns out not to be a good day, cancel it and reschedule, even if the cancellation is at the last minute. The same observation rule should apply throughout your school system.

E-Mails: No one would dispute the principle that teachers should not send out letters to parents on school system letterhead which bind the school system to some action or position. But when teachers e-mail parents that is exactly what is happening. Those e-mails live forever and are relied upon in due process hearings as evidence of what occurred or what position was taken by the school system. Other than e-mails sent out for scheduling purposes, before an e-mail is sent out, there needs to be some vetting of the e-mail by someone other than the sender. There needs to be control over these back and forth communications.

Rochelle’s Special Education Tips (“Tips”) are designed to be helpful and thought provoking, but should not be considered legal advice as they may not be accurate for use in all situations. Tips are based on my opinions and positions in accordance with federal and Maryland law and my over 35 years of experience in the special education legal field. – Rochelle S. Eisenberg, Esquire
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