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Expert Q&A

Can a teacher write a judgmental negative comment in an official report evaluating a student?

My 14-year-old son is currently in ninth grade at our high school. Last year, he was clinically diagnosed with mild autism (Aspergers Syndrome), and was also qualified as a Special Education student (Gifted/LD) by the public schools. I had a special meeting with his teachers at the beginning of the year to explain his inability at times to connect emotionally/display certain facial connects they might expect. This annual meeting helps, I have found.

Depsite that fact, I just received a formal interim report where his science teacher wrote what I consider an unethical, judging comment: “Lacks humility/gratitude”. I am deeply disturbed that this personality comment was typed into an official school report, and can no longer trust he is grading students outside of his own personal standards of behavior. My son is hurt by this judgment, and I am, even more. Is this abusive? Is this discrimination? It feels wrong. My son does not deserve such a judgmental comment on his school record. I am requesting a school administration meeting ASAP to have him removed from this teacher, but the more I think about it, the more inhumane and unfair it seems.

This teacher also called me once before and said my son was “way out there”, implying my son was crazy. Do I have any additional recourse? Are there legal guidelines for teacher report boundaries? I have had other incidents with this new teacher leading me to believe he is unstable. Thanks.


Dear Kim,

Your letter raises a question about inappropriate comments by a teacher in relation to your child with learning disabilities and Asperger’s Syndrome. I share your concern that comments such as these are enormously damaging to students. All children are vulnerable to unkind or mean comments by adults, particularly teachers. Children with disabilities are especially vulnerable to these sorts of comments, as well as being vulnerable to other children adopting the attitudes being displayed by the teacher. Unfortunately, there is no federal rule or law which regulates specific teacher conduct or regulates these sorts of comments per say. State standards vary with respect to the criteria for teacher conduct. States also vary with respect to procedures for filing complaints with the state department of education relating to teacher misconduct, though you may wish to contact your state department of education to see whether there is any complaint procedure available with respect to particular teachers. In addition, you can always bring complaints about a teacher’s conduct to the administration, as well as the school board.

Under some circumstances if there is serious misconduct by a teacher, and particularly there is a pattern of inappropriate statements, harassment, intimidation, or other discrimination, there are remedies available under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act While these laws clearly make such conduct illegal, there are enormous difficulties with respect to both proving the misconduct and determining what level of misconduct constitutes illegal harassment or discrimination. Where there is a pattern of misconduct, one avenue that can be pursued is to file a complaint alleging harassment or intimidation based on disability with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, based on a violation of Section 504 violations, or with the U.S. Department of Justice, based on harassment or discrimination based on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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