Last Updated on May 4, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
We are raised not to lie, right? Parents tell kids to “never lie!” “Always tell the truth.” So we are honest. Why, then, do SCHOOL officials LIE to parents? Kids are told not to lie, so why aren’t school administrators honest with us, the parents of those kids?
Yes, Schools Lie
When I first got into helping students and parents with school legal issues, I believed that administrators would be straight with parents– that school staff, such as vice principals, would not try to cover up or mislead parents. I believed we were all on a level playing field and these most trusted individuals- school administrators- should be trusted. I was wrong.
I quickly found out that school staff, such as vice principals, principals, school secretaries, and even teachers can lie to parents. This was a bit of a shock at first, but I should not have been surprised. In our world, people from priests to truck drivers may lie to others.
I am not so shocked that students are lied to, but I have heard time and again from parents about lies from school staff to the parents themselves. Parents, unfortunately often believe what they are told by school staff, due to their position of power and respect in our country. School officials are held in the highest regard by America, don’t you think? They care for students daily, raise them to be respectable citizens, and help them, right? So why would they lie to a teammate, the parent? Because they can.
Their Honored Position Makes School Dishonest Conduct Worse
Lying from a position of power is worse than regular lying. The position of trust gives certain people, like school staff, automatic credibility. We believe people in positions of trust will be honest and true. This is a weakness in our culture, when it comes to the schools. School staff are fully aware of the positions of trust they hold, and they take advantage of these positions, to the detriment of both students and parents.
Lies from a kid sometimes may be expected. Even a spouse or family member may lie once in a while. However, people in positions of power are at a different level. They should not lie. They are trusted to exercise their power wisely and honestly. Government employees, such as school employees and administrators, should at a minimum be honest in those positions. We TRUST them inherently.
Harm is exacerbated when a person in a position of power lies. It harms more than just the student when school officials lie. Lying in schools also hurts the student’s family, the community, the school, and may damage the student’s future permanently. Yet, it seems that school administrators or staff may not think these consequences through.
When Do Schools Lie?
I have found more lying among administrative staff, but have reviewed lies from all levels of school staff. When do these lies occur?
- Student discipline situations: for example, when school staff are aware a student will be up for expulsion, but tell a parent that the student will be back at school the next week. This can be shocking to parents when they end up at a school district meeting to discuss the student’s alleged “return” only to find out that the student is out until an expulsion hearing.
- When they messed up in reporting a threat to the school, such as a threat to kill someone. Sometimes schools jump the gun in issuing public statements on alleged threats. If these threats were actually not threats or were wrongly reported, schools won’t often retract the false statements. Instead, they will double down and just try to bury the student and their issues, perhaps even with more false statements.
- To cover up for or protect a teacher or staff member. For example, staff are friends and one lies to back up the other school staff member.
- When the school staff member did something illegal or immoral, such as graded a student improperly as the student offended the teacher.
- When defending actions that may not be supported. If a vice principal suspends a student, sometimes they lie about the support for the suspension.
- Misrepresenting legal mandates or obligations: Schools often falsely represent their obligations or the rights of parents.
- To avoid work. There is laziness even in schools.
- To force parents to take actions. For example, parents may be told they cannot leave a special education meeting without signing an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) document (100% false).
- To get parents to sign a suspension form. Administrators may lie to get parents not to challenge the school suspension.
- To avoid confrontation: School staff may want to avoid telling a parent bad news.
- To stop a parent from hiring legal or other help. School officials lie to parents that they have “never had a parent get an attorney,” or that outside help won’t help.
- To avoid spending money. For example, to not pay for support services for a student that may be needed.
- Because they were told to lie. There are times when orders go out to staff to avoid certain things, like qualifying students for special education.
Why Do They Lie?
I think the school staff that do lie, do so as they are lazy, uninformed, dishonest, ordered to, or cowardly.
When a parent is sitting distressed in the school office wondering when the student can return after suspension to school, and the administrator knows the student won’t be returning, I think the administrator who lies just does not have the backbone to be straight with the parent. Maybe they don’t want to hurt the parent. Maybe they are afraid the parent will hurt them. Regardless, school staff need to be honest and direct with parents so they can understand the situation.
I am often the one who has to tell parents the REAL story, what will happen next, and what the consequences may be. It is sad!
What Do They Say That Is Dishonest?
School staff can say many lies, such as:
“Student X will be back to school in 5 days!”
“Student X won’t be expelled.”
“Colleges never ask about suspensions.”
“No one will ever know about his discipline.”
“Suspensions don’t matter.”
“You are not entitled to an evaluation for special education.”
“You have to get an SST (Student Study Team) meeting prior to evaluation.”
“Teacher Y did not do it.”
“I have never had any complaints about Teacher Y.”
“We are fair in all our discipline.”
“The Principal is not in.”
… and many more.
Why Is School Lying Important to Be Aware Of?
Parents need to be aware that they may not dealing with holier-than-though, walk-on-water, 100% honest school staff, so they can evaluate things they are being told.
Do we not all inherently trust school staff? Church staff? Judges? People in positions of trust? Yes we do. Unfortunately this can cloud parents judgment when dealing with schools, where parents may take school staff’s word as FULLY TRUTHFUL when lies may actually exist. In other words, parents should not believe that the school staff member is being 100% honest just because they work at a school.
Working at a school does NOT mean school staff won’t lie to parents.
Do All School Staff Lie?
No. Not all school staff lie. There are honest people in every profession. Maybe most don’t lie. I have no idea.
However, I am aware that parents often tell me things school officials tell them which are flat lies.
Parents trust school officials. Parents believe them. School staff know this and TAKE ADVANTAGE of this trusted view of them. They are not stupid. Don’t you be stupid either. Take everything school staff say with a grain of salt, particularly school administrators.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.