There are basically four types of written complaints. You should not hesitate to use any of these, your child’s rights are the primary consideration. Schools do not retaliate for several reasons, they usually are just compelled to fix the issue (retaliation is illegal and really makes things worse for them, not you). Be polite, be accurate, and be right!
Email the district
You can send an email to the district (keep everything in writing!). The first should go to the teacher or your Education Team Facilitator (ETF) or whatever your district calls the person who runs the IEP meetings. If there is no response or solution within a few days, write to that person’s supervisor. Then proceed up the chain if you must. Don’t waste a lot of time with this, and you can always “cc” an appropriate administrator. If you don’t know someone’s email, or other people to write to, or you are not sure how to word the email, USE THIS LINK to help write the perfect email to your school district.
Procedural complaint (PRS – PQA)
If you have an issue where the district is not following the laws or regulations, either general education or special education (or any other issue), the Commonwealth has a system to handle this, the Problem Resolution System (PRS) formally known as the PQA.
Procedural issues include, but are not limited to, not getting IEP services, ignored bullying complaints, late IEP delivery, pre-determined goals or placements, not co-scheduling meetings when parents can easily attend, not following a 504 plan, not getting accommodations, etc.
The Commonwealth will formally write up the complaint and ask the district to respond. The district will, and the PRS will then basically tell them to “fix it” or find there is no basis. There are no “penalties” nor fees nor lawyers. The “worst” that happens to the district is that they are told they are out of compliance and to fix it. Or, they tell the parents why the complaint does not violate the law, and that is it. No one “gets in trouble” … just your and your child’s rights are protected. BUT, and this is important, the issue does NOT get ignored. The district MUST respond, and they will. There is no retaliation, no issues afterwards, it is all straightforward.
It is easy to file a procedural complaint with the Problem Resolution System (PRS). You fill out a form (there are other ways, this is the best) and sent it to both the district and the Commonwealth at the same time. Then a week or two later you will get a copy of the Commonwealth’s letter that goes to the district. You will then see the district’s response, and you can respond to that if you want to. Then the PRS makes a decision and tells the district what they must do (or not). That is it.
You can attach files if you need to (IEP, emails, etc.) but don’t add too much. They will always ask if they need more. If it is missing services, you can just specify what the service grid says, or attach just that page of the IEP. For emails, you can reference the email by person you sent to, date, and subject and/or attach a pdf print out of the email (ask Craig if you need geeky help with this). You typically do not have to attach files. You can add the name of a third party to allow the PRS to speak with them about the case (advocate, lawyer, etc.).
For the district section, use this information (yes, it should go to the Superintendent so the district is fully informed), and he (in Brookline’s case) will pass it on to the appropriate administrator (best to cut and paste):
Superintendent Andrew Bott
PSB, 333 Washington St., 5th Flr, Brookline MA 02445
If you save the complaint as a DRAFT (only if you registered on the site) you can go back and complete the form later or get help from someone else.
You should check off “Email Intake Form to the Commonwealth, the district, and me” hit submit and then you are done! Sit back, and have the problem solved, your rights protected, your child getting what the law says they should get.
If the issue is that you have not received your IEP and it is more than two calendar weeks since your IEP meeting, USE THIS FORM INSTEAD (either will work, this one is partially filled out for you!)
Requesting a hearing with the BSEA
The Commonwealth has the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA).
The Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”) conducts mediation, advisory opinions and hearings to resolve disputes among parents, school districts, private schools and state agencies concerning eligibility, evaluation, placement, individualized education programs (IEPs), special education services and procedural protections for students with disabilities.
You can think of it as “court” although it absolutely is NOT the same as civil court. There is a process that involves a pre-hearing conference, etc. You do NOT need a lawyer or advocate, but one can be helpful. There is a great manual for help if you do it without council (called “pro-se”).
Where the PRS deals with procedural issues, the BSEA deals more with FAPE questions, is the student getting a Free and Appropriate Public Education. BSEA hearings are about one particular student, never “class actions,” where the PQA can be about a systemic issue.
In short, you fill out a hearing request, send it to both the district and the BSEA, and the process starts. You can withdraw your complaint at any point of the process, you can come to an agreement with the district, etc.
See the information on the BSEA website and don’t be afraid to reach out to us with your questions!
Office of Civil Rights (OCR)
The U.S. Department of Education has an Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and they will investigate any issues that involve civil rights violations. This could be a bullying case where the district does not respond to the civil rights part of the actions (calling names concerning a disability, gender or nationality issues, etc.), treating a disabled student differently than typical students (not being allowed on a field trip or after school activity), and many more.
Who Can File a Discrimination Complaint
Anyone may file a complaint. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination but may complain on behalf of another person or group. A complainant filing on behalf of or pertaining to another person(s) is responsible for securing any necessary written consent from that individual, including when a parent files for a student over the age of 18.
A complaint must ordinarily be filed within 180 days of the last act of discrimination. If your complaint involves matters that occurred longer ago than this and you are requesting a waiver, you will be asked to show good cause why you did not file your complaint within the 180-day period.
An OCR complaint is only filed with the OCR, you do not need to inform the district at that time. The OCR will decide “if the facts in the complaint are true, is this a civil rights violation?” and then they will decide to take the case (or not). At that point, they will inform the district and they will start their investigation.
You do not need a lawyer, the OCR acts on your behalf (and they have lots of lawyers) (big, really good lawyers) (at no cost to you, btw). The district does not want to face an OCR investigation (trust me). But if there are civil rights issues, you really should file a complaint and the district really should (and then must) fix the problem.
For more information, and to file a complaint … GO TO THIS WEB PAGE