Parental Authority

Parents are free to direct the education of their children, including the choice of a private school. However, states have the power to regulate private schools, with the exception of religious institutions.

Parents are particularly active in issues relating to special education which is available for children with disabilities. A child’s disability must adversely affect the child’s educational performance in order for the child to receive special education assistance. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.) is a federal law that contains a process for evaluating a child’s special needs and for prescribing an individualized education program for children with special needs. Most states have enacted their own laws that parallel the Act.

Homeschooling—legal in all fifty states—is an increasingly popular option for some families. It is perhaps the greatest expression of parental control over the curriculum issues that affect their children. Homeschooling requires a large time commitment on the part of the family. There may be additional requirements as well. For example, in some states parents need to register their intent to homeschool with the state’s department of education or the parent’s local district school board. Furthermore, many states require annual evidence of home-schooled children’s progress.


Inside Parental Authority