Student records are confidential! Unfortunately, school people do not appreciate the importance of this protection. Many freely gossip without any consideration for a student's privacy and right to confidentiality. Students with special needs have a loss of control generally and when their information is not even held as sacred this is one more insult to their personhood.
Take what happened to my son recently. Beginnings of the school year are always fraught with stress, anxiety, miscommunications and many dropped balls. I recognize that school people are not perfect and try to keep mistakes in the perspective of the beginning of the year. Even at the beginning of the year though, I can not sit idle while staff dwells on everything negative, unable to see any positive developments.
I have to admit that one of the things that drives me crazy for myself, and for my clients as well, is staff that can only see the negative. It is what I call the "sewage principle." It goes like this, if you have a vat of sewage and add a teaspoon of wine, you have a vat of sewage; and, if you have a vat of wine and add a teaspoon of sewage you still have a vat of sewage. Some school people who have worked with my son always see sewage and never see wine. That is, if things are going mostly well in a class, as compared to the previous year or even in absolute terms, but a few things are not up to par the focus is exclusively on the negative and the positive is down played or ignored. This thinking makes me see red, and puts me in a confrontational feeling; sewage principle thinking is contagious and before too long the entire school "team" is having a full blown negativity party.
Not long ago I confronted a staff member for negativity in the face of my son's real progress. We exchanged emails trying to probe what in fact was going on in school. Instead of responding to my questions, the staff member sent my emails on to her daughter, who is a teacher in another school district. How do I know ? Well the daughter sent her response emails to me instead of her mother [big oopsey !]. The emails were clearly identifiable to my son. No effort was made to shield his identity in the impulse to complain about my "unfairness." Instead of a reasoned dialog the exchange degenerated into juvenile gossip at the expense of my son's confidentiality and privacy.
A colleague of mine that represents schools told me some time ago " school people are babies." Truer words were never spoken. I know that this statement is a generalization, but it holds true in so many cases. School people should not cry at meetings, not lash out and not engage in actionable gossip just because a parent or an advocate raises questions, or challenges the effectiveness of teaching or the child's lack of progress.
Unlike the staff member involved I do not want to act rashly. I could file an action with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights ("OCR") and may do so in the future. I would file in a moment, if I thought it would alter her conduct and improve my son's experience in school. At the end of the day the best that can be hoped for is disciplinary action against her through the school, and negotiations to neutralize her sewage principle gossip directed at my son. I hope that this episode will teach this staff member a life lesson that students with special needs deserve privacy, confidentiality and respect.