Montgomery County School Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody, prompted by complaints that divorced parents are not being given equal access to information about their children, said he plans to instruct school principals to honor all requests for duplication of school grades, bulletins and activity notices.
"It seems to me that we should not be putting up unnecessary barriers," Cody said yesterday. "I think, in general, that it is very important for children that both parents be knowledgeable about their activities."
Although divorced parents, custodial and noncustodial, are entitled under federal law to see their children's academic records, few schools around the country, including those in Montgomery County and most local jurisdictions, routinely duplicate or mail school bulletins.
School administrators typically argue that, although sympathetic to the pains of divorce, requests to duplicate their efforts for divorced parents are costly, burdensome and time-consuming.
An exception is the District of Columbia, one of the few places in the country with a written policy that requires schools to send duplicate information if a parent requests it.
In response, some parents complain that schools operate as if every family lived under the same roof, even though up to half the students have parents who do not live together.
The parents argue that the extra time and cost is a small price to pay for staying involved in their children's lives.
The issue of a school's responsibility to divorced parents has been the focus of increased national attention since an Albany father filed suit last year in federal court.
In a case believed to be the first of its kind, the father charged that he and his two children were being deprived of their civil rights because a school district repeatedly refused to send him the bulletins his former wife regularly received. The case is unresolved.
Cody said yesterday that he plans to send a letter soon informing all Montgomery school principals "that it's okay to provide information that is requested . . . unless we are provided with legal information" that indicates otherwise.
"When both parents are interested in a child's education, we should do what we can to sustain that interest in both parents, not discourage it," said Cody.
Montgomery school administrators always have been permitted to send duplicate bulletins and to keep divorced parents informed about their children's activities.
But Cody said confusion at local schools has led some administrators to be "overly cautious" and to unnecessarily attempt to okay the request with the parent who has primary custody. Such practices frequently lead to objections from the parent with primary custody.
Unless that parent can provide a legal opinion that information should not be shared, the requests of the other parent will be honored, Cody said.
Although Cody's instruction will cause more work, school principals said yesterday they welcomed a clearly stated policy.
"The biggest problem has always been, should you or shouldn't you," said Kathleen Holliday, Lakewood Elementary principal and president of the county's association of elementary school principals.