Parents have exactly one legal requirement regarding public education: compulsory attendance, under Virginia Code § 22.1-254. What does that mean? Parents must send their children to school1. Just about anything beyond that is good parenting but not legally binding. How much information you provide your children’s teachers is up to you, but consider why, in the case of separation, more information is better.
Deciding Who Knows About Your Separation
The Old Dominion has a proud and noble history of encouraging folks to mind their own business, but with separation, your child’s school should be included in the information circle. Your kids’ teachers are stakeholders in your children’s success, after all, so anything affecting their growth, academic development, mental well-being and physical fitness is properly shared with those teachers.
This does not mean blabbing your private business to bus drivers, cafeteria monitors, or crossing guards. It means quietly sharing only as much as you feel comfortable with only a few school personnel:
- Attendance secretary
- Guidance counselor
- Teachers directly involved with each child
- School nurse
Why, you may wonder? What if you and your wife are in separate homes, still within the school district, but suddenly the morning school commute is 20 minutes longer for one of you. Little Sally and Sam may be late one or two days a week until you get your morning routine down pat. The attendance secretary (remember that compulsory education law) can note these as “excused by parent” tardies, rather than unlawful ones.
Notifying the School of Protective Orders
Some separations are more congenial than others. If you and your wife are separated and a Protective Order, issued by a Virginia court, is part of the process, your child’s school should know about it. The PO could require that your wife is not to be on school grounds, is not to pick up your children, and is not to have contact with your children.
Provide the school with a copy of the PO. The school will then notify all stakeholders (teachers, secretaries who receive public visitors to have children taken out of school, the school nurse and guidance counselor) that the PO is in effect, for the protection of your child.
Tell Your Child’s Guidance Counselor
Depending on the age of your child, a school’s guidance counselors can be valuable resources for helping her or him work through a lot of uncomfortable feelings about separation, divorce, and custody.
Many parents make the mistake of thinking that if they are clear-headed about the situation (if they have worked through it), then the child should likewise be fine, too. Another common problem: parents blaming each other for the child’s need to talk out the problem. That makes the child feel guilty for the normal feelings she or he has regarding an impossible situation beyond the child’s control.
If your child seems anxious at home, tells tales of being bullied at school or “hating” a particular school figure, your child could be projecting unwanted feelings about the separation onto the school environment. If your child’s guidance counselor offers lunch groups or social clubs for working out those feelings, encourage participation.
Confide in the guidance counselor only as much as the counselor needs to know to help your child. Avoid substituting your child’s guidance counselor for one of your own; let the school help your kid, and you get help elsewhere for yourself.
Talk to His/Her Teachers
Research reported by Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC) Digests indicates that teachers have acute sensitivity to changes in the children they nurture. Providing teachers with a heads-up about a change in your child’s routine (separation, two households) can be vital information.
Teachers can and will:
- Provide the child with non-verbal signals, known only to the teachers and child, providing for relief breaks, a visit to the guidance counselor, or a moment of quiet consultation in the hallway
- Modify assignments to allow for shifting households, inadequate school supplies, or shuttling between homes
- Accept late work or give extended time due to circumstances beyond the child’s control
Teachers can provide none of these accommodations if you do not inform them of the child’s new situation.
The School Nurse
Why does the school nurse need to know your private business? Next to your pediatrician, the school nurse is the most important health professional in your child’s life. Everything from your child’s immunization history to chronic medical conditions is recorded and carefully monitored by most school nurses.
Separation and the accompanying anxiety can bring disrupted sleep, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate, and other problems:
- Frequent headaches
Additional psychological effects of separation could be tell-tales for the school nurse that your child is not doing well with the new situation. Provide information to the school nurse and rest assured it will be kept confidential, as all school records (by law) must be.
As family law attorneys, The Firm For Men can help you deal with all the many organizations, businesses, people and institutions affected by your separation and divorce. Contact us online or call us at 757-383-9184 to get helpful, useful advice for your situation.