• Elizabeth Hamblet

Do College Disability Services Offices Communicate with Parents?


When students transition to college, their parents don’t have the right to access any information about them unless students allow this by signing a FERPA (Family Rights Education Privacy Act). What parents need to know is that the waiver only gives college staff and faculty members permission to speak to parents, but it doesn’t obligate them to do certain things, such as report on students’ programs or respond to inquiries about grades.

Having had a different experience in the K-12 system, some parents might be surprised to see what some college disability services (DS) directors said about communication when I interviewed them for my book.


Q. Do you ask students to sign a FERPA waiver? If students have signed one, do you communicate with their parents?

Mai Graves is the director of the Learning/Access Center (L/AC) at Pratt Institute

A. In situations where parents or the high school has forwarded a student’s documentation to us, I will contact the parents to let them know if the student doesn’t follow up by arranging an intake meeting (a necessary step in our process). This typically occurs in instances where students have never taken an active role in the process and, therefore, don’t make the connection between being part of the process to ensure they receive accommodations and ultimately, receiving the accommodations that have been agreed upon. I think this may be reflective of instances where parents have not allowed their student to take ownership of the process to receive accommodations and other procedures related to their college experiences.

Once students complete the registration process, if they have given me permission, I may speak with their parents in the event that anything arises. If parents call (either on their own or in response to a call from me) and the student has given me permission, I will speak with them to update them about an ongoing situation, such as when I’ve learned the student may either be tanking in some or all of their classes or has not been attending classes. Additionally, I’ll always respond to parent’s subsequent inquiries, especially if their student has alerted them that things aren’t going well for them. However, I won’t keep contacting them to provide updates.

Cindy Poore-Pariseau is Director of Disability Services at Bristol Community College

A. Because we are a local community college, we probably see a lot more parents at students’ DS intake meetings than four-year schools do. Some parents are so used to talking for their student that they won’t let their student talk.

When this happens, I will refocus my question to allow the student to try to respond. I will also remind students that I have to have their permission to talk to their parents, and I ask if this okay. I like to have the student involved in the conversation so everyone on the same page.

Parents have to realize that DS does not replace the high school guidance office. We do not report to parents about students’ progress (those reports my office solicits are for students’ use; we don’t send them to their parents). I once received an email from parent who was upset that I didn’t let her know her student was failing classes. I told her that it was her student’s responsibility to inform her of this, not ours, and that we probably don’t know anyway, unless the professor or the student has told us.

Students can sign a release allowing us to talk to their parents regarding disability-related issues only. We don’t “advertise” it to our students, but we’ll tell them about it if they ask or if their parents ask about it.

Professors won’t talk to parents without checking to make sure that student have signed the FERPA release. But this just allows us to talk to parents, and for my office, it’s only about disability-related issues, not their academic performance

L. Scott Lissner is the ADA Coordinator at Ohio State University

A. Student are offered a chance to sign a release. The DS office will then respond to parents but they will not typically call parents with status reports.

Jamie Axelrod is the Director of Disability Resources at Northern Arizona University

A. We inform students that if they would like us to share information from their educational record they will need to have sign a release. We will respond to parent’s inquiries about their child’s educational record if that release is in place.

That said, we are open to speaking with parents about issues which are unrelated to the student’s official educational record. Parents often have excellent information to share regarding a student’s disability, which the student themselves may not be able to effectively express.

Ward Newmeyer is Director of Student Disability Services at Dartmouth College

A. No, we do not routinely ask students for permission to release confidential information. It is generally in response to a student’s request, most commonly to document the services we authorized at Dartmouth for another institution.

On the relatively rare occasions that a student signs a release, we stand ready to share information with parents when asked and as we deem appropriate. We still expect students to represent their own interests, and generally do not allow third parties, including parents, to request services or make decisions on behalf of the student we aim to serve.

Stacey Reycraft is Director of Student Disability Services at the University of Mississippi

A. We do not ask students to sign the university’s FERPA waiver, though they are certainly invited to do so. We have our own internal Parent Release form that has different tiers of approval.

At Level I, students grant us permission to share non-academic information with their parents. We can confirm that they came in for their intake appointment and tell the parents what accommodations we have approved.

At Level II, they approve us to discuss any subsequent contact they have had with our office.

At Level III, they grant us permission to discuss their academic performance, including attendance, grades, and class participation. Very few students grant us this permission

To see more related posts, click here:

College disability services directors' advice & information

Parenting for college success


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Learn how students get access to disability accommodations at college, what accommodations are available, and more. Read my book, From High School to College: Steps to Success for Students with Disabilities.



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