Filing A Teacher Complaint May Be A Good Idea


Last Updated on July 28, 2023 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

I frequently hear about school personnel issues, such as teacher misconduct, bad treatment from school administrators, school personnel targeting a student and other problems involving school employees.  To get the problem solved, parents can: file a written personnel complaint on the teacher or other staff member with their school or school district.

file teacher complaint in school or student is left on their own
If parents don’t file complaints, the student may be left at the mercy of the school staff doing wrong.

Many Teacher Issues Are Solved With No Records Created

If there is a bad teacher in a school, who abuses students or discriminates, many may be aware of the wrongful conduct.  However, the problem is, the people who know about the abuse, discrimination, or sexual wrongs, are other school staff or students

School staff may not report fellow staff, due to the strange protective clique in schools, where everyone seems to cover for everyone else. Students may fear reporting a teacher, or if they report, may not be believed.

As such, although it is vital that parents resolve the issues, if a teacher issue is resolved informally, it may vanish as far as the records are concerned.

This is because school administrators may not note an informal resolution in a teacher’s file. Then, if there is another situation, it may look like the teacher has never had a past issue.

This is problematic, as teacher patterns of abuse may be missed.

If a Parent Did Not Complain, Did It Really Happen?

Remember the old saying “If a tree falls in the woods did it make a sound if no one heard it?”  When there are teacher, staff or school issues, the question is: “If a parent complains verbally did it make an impact if there is no record?”  

If a teacher’s personnel file is bare, with no noted complaints, a school administrator may tell a complaining parent: “I have no complaints on this teacher. You are the first parent with an issue with this excellent educator.”  This may or may not be accurate as the administrator may have “heard things” or met with other parents about the teacher before. Yet, there still may be no paper records of these verbal interactions so gaslighting may occur.   

If the teacher’s file has no formal complaints how can anyone prove there were 30 other verbal complaints?  It is tough.  The solution is for parents to file written complaints on abusive teachers or school staff when warranted.

crocodile with mouth open
Verbal reports may not be enough to stop bad school staff

A Verbal Complaint May Not Be Enough

Often parents make verbal complaints to people about school staff who create problems.  Yet, even if a parent discusses something with school staff, unless the school staff write it down, there is no record. So, once concluded, the issue is soon forgotten. 

To remedy this, parents should file teacher or school staff complaints in writing when possible.  This will ensure staff abuse or other issues are documented, investigated, and kept in the appropriate school files.

What Can Happen if No Formal Teacher Complaints Are Filed?

What can happen if no written complaints are filed could be as follows: say Teacher A has abused or bullied dozens of students for 25 years, but only three families came forward with written complaints and no staff reported the teacher.  Perhaps fifteen other students made verbal complaints of sexual wrongs, but there is no record of these verbal complaints.

As a result, Teacher A continues in his job year after year, bullying and harassing a new student each year and causing devastating lifelong impacts to his student victims. 

Because of the lack of formal complaints, the teacher may remain protected and undetected by the school or district, as there are “only three” formal complaints in over two decades.  Had even half of the students targeted by Teacher A filed written complaints (or the school noted down all verbal complaints), perhaps Teacher A would now be in another profession like dog catching.

Bad teachers should be investigated and action taken to stop what they are doing

Request the Policies and the Complaint Form

It is usually very simple to file a teacher or school staff complaint.  A parent can contact the school or the school district and ask for the policies and complaint form to complete for teacher or school staff complaints.

Often the complaint process and forms are also on the school and/or school district website.  The parent then simply completes the personnel complaint form with factual information, such as a detailed summary, emails, photographs, online posts, and names of witnesses, and submits the complaint per the policy.  

Meetings May Be Required During Complaint Process

Often personnel complaint procedures require a meeting with the teacher first to discuss the issues and try to resolve them. Next steps, if the teacher meeting fails, usually involve the school principal or another administrator, and later the school district. The issue may even land in the lap of the school board.  

Post-meeting, a parent may document what happened at the meeting by sending confirmatory emails or letters about the meetings, creating a paper trail.

Districts WANT Complaints on Bad Employees?

I have actually been called by an attorney who represents school districts asking whether I had any potential complaints on a teacher that the school district was looking to terminate.  As the school district did not have enough WRITTEN complaints, there was not enough ammunition to fire the teacher.  This call in itself shows the importance of filing written complaints about terrible teachers.

If more parents filed written complaints, bad teachers might get fired, instead of sticking around to abuse other students.  

protect students from abuse in school
Students must be protected and sometimes that means taking on the school system

Be Accurate and Factual

One word of caution: whomever files a complaint should be sure it is factually accurate.  It would be inappropriate to file teacher complaints based solely on conjecture, or wild student rumors. 

Parents should stick with what is known and can be proven involving the teacher or school staff member.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for parents to follow through with written complaints when a problem with school personnel arises.  Written complaints can give a school district the power to investigate and weed out abusive teachers and staff once and for all.  

If enough parents complain, perhaps the bad school personnel will be terminated, demoted, transferred, or will change their bad behavior. Some may even end up in jail, depending on the depth of their wrongs.

Student lawyer Michelle Ball can assist parents file complaints on teachers and school personnel. As a Sacramento attorney, Michelle Ball may help throughout California, including in Oakland, Hollywood, Clovis, Mendocino, Roseville, Sacramento, Folsom, Natomas, San Francisco, Stockton, Santa Rosa, and many other areas.

Originally published February 26, 2011