The Teacher and Parent Rights for Holding an Elementary Student Back


The decision to retain an elementary student is a complicated process where teachers must work with parents to determine the best course of action for each child. State laws and school policies vary regarding who makes the ultimate decision to retain. Teachers have a right to use objective data and test scores to recommend retention, although they generally do not have the right to make the final decision. Parents have a right to request evaluations of their children to determine if there are any learning disabilities that could be helped with special services, offering a possible alternative to retention.

Teacher Rights

  • Teachers are usually the first to recommend retention. Beyond that, teacher rights regarding a final decision to retain a student are limited. The state education department and individual school boards determine education policies regarding retention that teachers must follow. After recommending a student for retention, teachers generally do not have a right to make the ultimate decision.

Parent Rights

  • Some states and school districts may allow parents to appeal a retention decision. For example, Michigan recognizes that parents have the right to work with schools to discuss the best ways to develop a student's academic abilities, but final decisions are ultimately made by the school district. Other states and school districts give parents the right to make the final decision to retain a student. According to Dr. Laura Markham in, "Holding Them Back a Grade," parents who commit to doing extra work to help a child improve may be able to convince a school district to promote a student previously recommended for retention. Parents also have the right to ask that a child be held back.


  • Although schools can legally retain a student without parent approval, some state laws allow parents to appeal retention decisions. Teachers' right to retain a student are generally not protected under law, beyond the right to make an initial retention recommendation. According to the article, "10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention and Other Damaging Policies," published on the Wrightslaw website, some states require teachers to notify parents in advance when children are struggling academically and may be at risk for retention. Failing to notify parents of problems with academics before recommending retention gives parents grounds to appeal a retention decision.

Individualized Educational Program

  • Students receiving special education services are required to have an Individualized Education Program written by a team of regular and special education teachers, school administrators, counselors and the student's parents. The IEP is designed to outline specific learning requirements of students with special needs. When students with an IEP are recommended for retention, parents have a right to use the IEP team to challenge the decision. According to "Should Your Child Be Held Back a Grade? Know Your Rights" on the website, parents have a right to look into the special education services being offered to IEP students. Retention is possible only when the district has exhausted every possible special education service that could help an IEP student.


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