Adoption Issues and the ClassroomBack to school season is an exciting and stressful time of year for families, especially for those families with adopted children. Did you know that Sixty percent (60%) of people in the United States had a personal connection with adoption in 1997? According to the Evan B. Donaldson Institute that percentage continues to grow each year. As more adopted children enter the classroom, there is a great opportunity for parents and teachers to work together to help each adopted child perform to his or her maximum potential through open communication and understanding of a particular child’s needs.

If you, as an adoptive parent, choose to share your child’s adoption story and background, we outline a few topics you may want to discuss. A good starting point may be to schedule a one-on-one conference with the child’s teacher to discuss the necessary information related to your child’s specific needs.  It is paramount to establish an open dialogue early on with your child’s teacher and school about any of your child’s trauma triggers, unique behaviors, foundational “holes” in your child’s education, and special educational accommodation needs.

FERPA, Adoption, & Your Childs Privacy

If the teacher has family based projects planned for the year, then you may want to request your child’s teacher to strive to provide experiences that celebrate diversity, the interrelatedness of cultures, and/or the “nontraditional” family. You can ask his or her teacher to consider class assignments that might highlight the differences between your adopted child from their peers such as family trees, autobiographies, timelines of their lives, baby pictures, and family heritage and history projects. You can also “educate” your child’s teacher on how people use appropriate, positive language when referring to adoption, and assist and advocate for adopted children against teasing or taunting about a child’s background, or when your child is asked a personal question about adoption from other students. It’s important to prepare your child, and their school administrators, for these difficult situations that undoubtedly will occur at some point in time during their schooling.

All information about your student, including personal information, enrollment details, assignments and grades, form part of your child’s student record which is protected by Federal Law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, or more commonly known as “FERPA” ( 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA does not allow schools or school officials to disclose student records without the express written consent of the parent or student. So, there is likely no reason that a teacher would need to disclose the fact that your child is adopted to anyone unless you give them express, written permission to do so or your child voluntarily shares the information. There are exceptions to this general rule of non-disclosure, but should a disclosure be made by the school, it must be for “legitimated educational interest” in the student’s file and must be directly related to your child’s instruction.

Americans with Disabilities Act and your Adopted Child’s Education

Another aspect to consider for parents with adopted children is if your student has a qualified disability and attends public school, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the “ADA,” and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as “IDEA.” provides comprehensive civil rights protections to them. As described by both the ADA and IDEA, an “individual with a disability” is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a “major life activity,” or has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment. Examples of physical or mental impairments include, but are not limited to, contagious and noncontagious diseases and conditions such as orthopedic, visual, speech, and hearing impairments; cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental retardation, emotional illness, specific learning disabilities, HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism. “Major life activities” include functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

If your adoptive child qualifies as a protected person under Title II of the ADA, a public school cannot refuse to allow them to participate in a service, program, or activity simply because of the disability. The school must provide programs and services for your child in an integrated setting, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity. The school is required to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny equal access to a child with disabilities, unless a fundamental alteration in the program would result. The school may not charge your family to cover the costs of measures necessary to ensure nondiscriminatory treatment, such as making modifications required to provide program accessibility or providing qualified interpreters. Under the IDEA, the school must provide students with disabilities an individualized education program, or “IEP”, which is a written statement that must include your student’s current level of academic achievement and functional performance, annual goals, meet your student’s needs of their disability, and track their progress.

You may file a lawsuit to enforce your student’s rights under Title II of the ADA, and damages and reasonable attorney’s fees may be awarded to the prevailing party. You may also file a complaint online with the Department of Justice, which will, in turn, refer the complaint to the appropriate administrative agency to be investigated.

Interactions with School Officals

For adoptive parents and children, back-to-school interactions with administrators, teachers, peers and other parents can be overwhelming. School administrators and teachers are not always sensitive to your adoption issues which can range from language and ethnicity to birth-parents and genealogical background. You must decide who to share adoption information with, and how much information to share. Teachers sometimes require specialized knowledge and training to understand the complexities of issues affecting adopted children, which they may lack. Being proactive and understanding the legal implications of the adoption information you share should help you start the school year in the right direction.

If you have questions, contact Sodoma Law today at 704.442.000 or email us at attorney@sodoamlaw.com