Legal Question Of The Week - November 16, 2012

By Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

The "Legal Question of the Week" is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors. Please submit your questions to:

Dear Legal Mailbag:

We haven’t even come to the Winter Break and already we have seniors who are having their 18th birthdays. They are rather proud of their “adult” status, and some of them are testing us by signing themselves out early and coming late with a written excuse from – themselves. To say that these young adults are annoying is an understatement. I would like to push back and reject their “notes.” And I would like to let their parents know what they are up to, but I don’t know if I can, now that these students are adults, at least technically. HELP!

Being Played

Dear Played:

I love sharing good news. First, whether we are talking about parents or their adult children, we do not have simply to accept whatever a parent (or adult student) wants to do. Students are expected to be in school during regular school hours, and attendance during that time is not optional. To be sure, administrators exercise their discretion in permitting absence for valid reasons, as may be requested by parents (and even adult students). However, administrators still retain discretion in deciding what excuses are valid (e.g., religious holidays) and which are not (e.g., being up late the night before). Thus, you are free to tell the student that you do not accept the excuse, with the probable result that the student will knock it off for fear of triggering consequences under your attendance policy. In addition, you may indeed let the parents know what is going on. Under FERPA, rights typically transfer from the parents to the “eligible student,” i.e. a student who is 18 or older. However, FERPA provides that schools may share information concerning eligible students with parents as long as the student remains a dependent for tax purposes. Unless and until you hear differently, you may presume that the students are dependents and share all of this information with their parents.