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Last Updated: 11/20/2017
 

 Ask the Attorney with John Brower, J.D.

 

Question: I am a high school teacher. Recently I found out that a student's grade from last year has been changed without my consent. He failed the class because of lack of effort. The mom had him tested and found that he has an IQ of 89. She said the district was not meeting her son's needs. He does not qualify for special education. Does a district have the legal right to change my grade without my consent?

Answer: This question presents a mix of employment law, issues related to academic freedom, a student’s right to receive the grade he, or she earned (as adjusted by any valid district policies such as an attendance policy), and possibly issues relating to IDEA and §504.


First, it a parent claims that a student “is not meeting her child’s needs”, this is a statement where it may be prudent for the school staff to at least review the child’s academic and behavior records to determine if a formal evaluation for eligibility for special education services under IDEA or §504 is warranted. If the school decides that an evaluation is not warranted, to protect themselves from future claims it may wish to provide the parent with a copy of their finding and inform the parents of their procedural rights under IDEA and §504 to appeal this decision.


Next, the State delegates to the local Boards of Education the authority to make many curriculum decisions, including course objectives. The Board also is given the authority to create grading standards. As the issuing of student's grades is an ongoing matter, the authority over grades is generally passed to each building administrator. In turn, they pass it to the classroom teacher, while maintaining supervisory authority over the process, including the authority to amend a grade. While it is good practice to create a written “grade appeal” process to prevent these types of issues from arising, I know this just does not always happen.


Interestingly, the School Code before it was amended in 1996 (see MCL 380.1249) detailed a process that all schools were required to follow if an administrator wished to change the grade a teacher had assigned to a student. The process included a review panel and an appeal process. In 1996, the Legislature repealed this law, and it does not appear that they ever replaced it.


As this issue also indirectly relates to the academic integrity of the teaching staff, it is an issue that may well be subject to the bargaining process the teachers and the school board use to create the agreement that covers the employee-employer relationship. In fact, when I was on the school board of a large suburban district, I was involved in the negotiation of two such agreements. Both addressed the grading issue with negotiated language that stated: “Whenever a grade or decision to pass or retain a student is changed against the advice of a teacher, the building administrator shall inform the teacher of the change. The administrator shall initial the document.” If any procedure, including the requirement that an administrator inform a teacher of a grade change is not followed, then the teacher’s remedy (and depending on the agreement language - the only remedy) is to use the grievance process defined in the agreement to seek a remedy. Therefore, a review of your agreement or a call to your local bargaining representative is in order.

 

If this subject is not addressed in the agreement or in school policy (check with your school board office) then this is a matter to ask be addressed in the next contract. As there does not appear to be a legal right of action, the other alternative is to work with other teachers, your building administrator, and central office staff to draft a policy.


Hope this helps. 
John F. Brower, JD
Education Law Center, PLLC
www.edlawcenter.com

 

Education Law Center, PLLC · 810-227-9850 · www.michedlawcenter.com 

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