Q: A father of one of our students wants to chaperone his child’s field trip. The divorce decree says that the mother has custody during the week of the field trip. I heard there is a new law that says we must allow the father to chaperone, even though it is the mother’s custody week. Is that correct?
A: Yes, if the father is a conservator. House Bill 3145 amended the Texas Family Code to provide any parent appointed as a conservator “the right . . . to attend all school activities, including school lunches, performances, and field trips” at all times.
A conservator is a person appointed with certain rights and duties in relation to a child, typically occurring in child custody and/or divorce suits. There are three types of conservators: sole managing conservators, joint managing conservators, and possessory conservators. In most situations, the court will assign one or both parents as managing or possessory conservators. When parents are appointed as conservators, the court will identify within the court decree the specific rights and duties assigned to each parent. Tex. Family Code § 153.071. Often, this will result in parents having designated custody weeks or particular times of possession. The Family Code provides a laundry list of rights that parents appointed as a conservator have at all times, regardless of who has physical custody. Previously, this list included the right to attend school activities, but was unclear as to what qualified as a “school activity.” The Legislature clarified in House Bill 3145 that school activity includes “school lunches, performances, and field trips.” Under this language, parents who are appointed as any type of conservator—sole managing conservator, joint managing conservator, or possessory conservator—have the right to attend any of these school activities at any time when such activities are open to other parents. This is true regardless of who has physical custody of the child at the time of the activity.
In the situation above, the district should look to the child custody order and determine whether the father is designated as a conservator for the child. If the father is a conservator, the father must be allowed to attend the class field trip, regardless of whether it is technically the mother’s custody period. If the father is not a conservator, then the district should look to the rights and duties assigned to the father in the child custody order. In cases where the order appears unclear, the district should contact its local school attorney.