Does the parent have the right to know where the child is?

A 15-year old girl in El Paso complained of child abuse.  District officials made a child abuse report and contacted law enforcement.  The county sheriff’s office conducted a preliminary investigation and determined that this was a child discipline issue and the mother had the right to take the child home.  But the girl said she was afraid to go home.  The school’s At-Risk Coordinator then arranged for the girl to be taken to a shelter at the Center Against Family Sexual and Domestic Violence.  No one told the mother, even when she came to the school to pick her daughter up.   Here’s how Commissioner Morath summarized the situation: 

The record is clear that several school officials knew that Petitioner/mother had come to pick up her daughter from school on May 7, 2019 and she was not told that her daughter was in the counselor’s office waiting to be transported to a shelter.  In fact, the Executive Director of Student and Parent Services, the Level II grievance decisionmaker, found that “the campus staff should have informed [the parents] that the Center for Family and Sexual Violence was contacted, involved in the situation, and that [their daughter] was taken to the shelter if known by the staff.”  The record contains the statements of approximately eight staff members involved, several of whom knew the child’s location when the mother was searching for her initially and in the following days.  No one on the staff informed the parents about the child’s absence on May 8, about her being allowed to spend the school day in the counselor’s office on May 9, or about her being transported to the shelter at the end of the school day until May 10, when the Petitioner/stepfather came to the school accompanied by an El Paso police officer.  Petitioners never gave permission for their daughter to be transported from the high school….for their daughter to be housed at CAFSDV from May 7 through May 10, nor for their daughter to be absent from school on May 8, 2019.

The Commissioner stated that “the facts of this case are very troubling” but he declined to offer the parents any relief. That’s largely because the district acknowledged fault at Level II in the grievance process, and the relief the parents sought from the Commissioner was beyond his authority to give. 

Nevertheless, the case is a good reminder of some provisions in Chapter 26 of the Education Code.  T.E.C. 26.008(a):

A parent is entitled to full information regarding the school activities of a parent’s child except as provided by Section 38.004. 

The district argued that the child’s physical location is not a “school activity,” but the Commissioner backhanded that:

The information [regarding the child’s whereabouts] is so basic that it is difficult to comprehend how a child’s physical location during the time the child is under the school’s supervision would not be included in information regarding the child’s school activities. 

The district also argued that the exception in the statute (38.004), which refers to child abuse investigations, permitted it to withhold information from the parents.   School employees are required to cooperate with child abuse investigators, which might include complying with instructions to withhold certain information from the parents. But not this type of information. Key Quotes: 

Here, the school staff’s cooperation with the sheriff’s or CPS’s investigation did not require withholding information about the child’s whereabouts. 

Petitioners were inquiring about the location of their child, not interfering with any investigation.

The case is Parents v. El Paso ISD, decided by the Commissioner on May 18, 2020.  It’s Docket No. 004-R10-09-2019, also located at 2020 WL 3127968.