Are parent-teacher conferences a place for stepparents?
This depends entirely on the relationship between the biological parents and their partners, as well as the individual needs and wants of every family according to Dana Stahl, M.Ed., learning consultant and author of The ABC’s of Learning Issues.
To ensure a successful partnership, it is important for all stepparents who attend school meetings to understand how and when to participate in parent-teacher conferences.
As a stepparent, it’s essential to realize that biological parents do not want you to take their place. If the parent does have an issue with you attending a parent-teacher conference, it’s often better to accept the fact that the biological parent only wants to do their duty as a parent.
If a biological parent is not involved in the educational development of the child then the stepparent who is actively engaged in the child’s school life is often a welcomed addition to the meeting along with his or her partner, the other biological parent.
As stepmom, you are very aware of the involvement stepparents can have in their stepchildren’s school work. Stepparents help ensure homework is completed, participate in nightly reading assignments, assist in preparation of quizzes and tests, and discuss course selections, and yet, they may not attend parent-teacher conferences because they do not see their attendance as essential.
Stepparents’ rights under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)
In a LovetoKnow.com article, parenting and early childhood writer Amy Newman discusses stepparents’ rights and roles in the school setting under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Under this act, she says “parents have the right to inspect and review their child’s school records as well as make education decisions. Under FERPA, “parent” includes the definition “an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or guardian.”
This language has been interpreted to include a stepparent, provided that the child lives with the biological and stepparent at least part of the time.”
Newman continues, “Because not every school employee may be aware of FERPA, or because the child’s other biological parent may try to prohibit the school from providing you with information, it is a good idea to have your spouse give school administrators a signed consent form that specifically authorizes you to receive printed and verbal communications regarding the child and to pick him up from school.
It is not necessary for the child’s other parent to also sign the consent form; your spouse’s signature is enough to give the school the right to provide you with the child’s school records and other information.”
Preparing for parent-teacher conferences
Some stepmoms notice that when the relationship with the other biological parent is cordial, it is easier for them to attend parent-teacher meetings.
In some cases, both biological parents and their respective partners attend parent-teacher meetings together. When this occurs, stepmoms need to prepare for these meetings in a strategic and planned manner.
It is important to remember that the biological parents speak first. Once they ask and finish their questions, stepparents can begin by saying, “I observe this, I noticed that.” It’s best to try not to contradict the biological parent and discuss what you want to say with your spouse prior to the meeting.
By welcoming you to attend parent-teacher conferences, your spouse is acknowledging that it is also beneficial for you to be present.
Be prepared when your child has a 504 Plan or an IEP
Whether a stepparent or a parent, it is important to plan ahead for parent-teacher conferences.
Generally, they are twenty minutes in length and your child’s teachers have prepared what they want to say. You need to do the same, especially if your child has a 504 Plan or an IEP.
Below are some general tips for parents and stepparents alike as adapted from Understood.org to help ensure a successful parent-teacher conference.
- Be Informed
- Understand your child’s profile
- Keep a paper trail
- Create a folder for report cards, transcripts, home-school communications, parent-teacher conferences, and IEP meetings
- Know Who is on Your Team
- Maintain an open line of communication with teachers, service providers, and school principals
- Be mindful and curious
- Ask questions and document answers on your child’s level of academic performance, class participation, social-emotional behavior, attention, etc.
- Maintain Communication
- Home-school communication is essential
- Use all methods of communication
- Through regular communication, parents and educators can partner together
- Learn Educational Terminology
- All professions have a common language
- As parents it is important to learn educational terminology to foster home-school communication
- Learn what ‘push-in’ and ‘pull-out’ means, as well as acronyms like RTI and CST
- Understand Your Rights
- FAPE and IDEA mandate that your child has specific rights
- FAPE – Free and Appropriate Public Education for Children 3-21 who have learning and attention issues
- IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is tailored to meet individual needs
- Remain Calm and Carry On
- Parents are an equal part of the team and their voice matters
- If needed, bring an educational advocate to meetings
- Learn phrases that you can use to redirect conversations or diffuse tense situations
- Talk to your Child
- Ask your child if they are receiving services or specified accommodations and interventions
- Ask if they are finding the services helpful
- Teach your children educational phrases that will promote self-advocacy
Stepparents and biological parents need to maintain an open line of communication when it comes to meeting their children’s academic and social-emotional needs at school. There is no right or wrong answer with regard to stepparents attending parent-teacher conferences.
Each family will balance what works for them. If, however, stepparents and biological parents attend parent-teacher conferences together, a level of mutual respect, tolerance, and decorum must ensue in order to accomplish the goal of partnering together to support your children.
This topic can be explored further in The ABCs of Learning Issues, by educational expert Dana Stahl, M.Ed
Dana has a history of being learning disabled and became a learning specialist to assist children with learning issues find compensatory strategies to reach their social-emotional and academic potential.
Her practice, Educational Alternatives LLC, focuses on educational advise, advocacy and school placements.
The ABCs of Learning Issues, winner of the NAPPA and The Parent Teacher Choice Award from HowtoLearn.com, is a practical guide for parents to help them further understand their children’s learning, attention and anxiety issues.
The book bridges the home-school gap by demystifying areas of concerns and captures how parents and educators can work together guiding children to reach their full potential. The ABCs of Learning Issues is available in English and Spanish through Amazon.
Related articles on Special Needs Children and learning answers by Dana Stahl