How to File a Complaint at a Public School

Woman making phone call from home while on computer.
... Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images

As taxpayer-funded institutions responsible for the education of children, public schools are accountable to parents and the community in general. That accountability includes being responsive to public complaints and concerns. Most school districts have formal policies that describe how to file a complaint and how long the district has to respond. The district’s website should explain how this process works.

1 Filing a Complaint

Parents should initiate complaints at the school level. Seattle Public Schools, for example, has a procedure that asks parents to start by speaking to the classroom teacher. If the teacher can't or won't resolve the problem, the parent or community member can ask to speak to an assistant principal or principal. An unsettled complaint should be registered in writing to the school district that has jurisdiction over the child's school. Many school districts have designated problem solvers, or ombudsmen, assigned to address public complaints. The district superintendent may hear an appeal if the complaint is unresolved, depending on what the district's procedures allow. The next step involves an appeal to the local board of education.

2 Common Complaints

The most common complaint in public schools is that the child has special needs and isn't receiving promised services to meet those needs, according to a 2013 article in "The Washington Post." In such a case, the parent should ask the child’s teacher for an IEP, or individualized education program, meeting. Another common complaint is that the child is being bullied; this calls for a meeting with the principal, who should investigate, contact the parents of the children involved and act to resolve the problem. If problems with a classroom teacher aren't resolved, parents should talk to other parents with similar concerns and appeal to the school district or local school board.

A native of Nashville, Tenn., Dannelle F. Walker is an education lawyer and policy maker. Her areas of expertise include teacher liability, educator ethics, and school operations. She holds a JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law.