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(9.25) Who can serve as a surrogate parent and what are their responsibilities?

(9.25) Who can serve as a surrogate parent and what are their responsibilities?

The district must appoint a surrogate parent for students who are not wards of the court if no parent can be identified or if the district, after making reasonable efforts, cannot locate the parent. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.519(a); Cal. Gov. Code Secs. 7579.5(a)(2) & (3).] The district must first appoint a relative caretaker (such as an grandparent or other relative if they are parenting the child) as the surrogate parent. If there is no relative caretaker, the district must look to a foster parent or court-appointed special advocate (CASA) willing and able to serve. If there is no foster parent or CASA, the district may choose the surrogate parent. If the student’s surrogate parent has been a relative caretaker or foster parent and leaves the home of that surrogate parent, the district must appoint a new surrogate parent, if necessary, to ensure adequate representation. [Cal. Gov. Code Sec. 7579.5(b).]

The law allows retired teachers, social workers or probation officers, who do not work for a public agency involved in the education or care of the student, to be appointed as surrogate parent. An employee of a private agency may be appointed as long as the agency does not provide educational services to the student. A person otherwise qualified to be a surrogate parent is not considered an employee of the district even if the district pays the surrogate parent for his services. [Cal. Gov. Code Sec. 7579.5(j).]

A district may not appoint a surrogate parent if he has a conflict of interest with the student. A conflict of interest means any interest that might restrict or bias the ability to advocate for all of the services required to ensure that the student receives FAPE. If practical, the surrogate parent should be culturally sensitive to his assigned student. [Cal. Gov. Code Secs. 7579.5(e) & (i).]

A surrogate parent has all the powers of a parent or guardian of a special education student. He may consent to IEPs, non-emergency medical services, mental health treatment, and occupational or physical therapy services. [Cal. Gov. Code Sec. 7579.5(c).]

Although the surrogate parent is given complete parental authority, he is only required to meet with the child once. To competently fulfill the role, the surrogate parent should meet with the student more than once, attend IEP meetings, review student records and consult with teachers and others involved in the student’s education.  All of these interactions and activities are permitted under law. The surrogate parent must comply with federal and state student record confidentiality laws and use discretion when sharing information with appropriate persons. [Cal. Gov. Code Secs. 7579.5(d) & (f).]