Last Updated on March 29, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney 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 the school or school district.
More Parents Need to Complain in Writing
If there is a bad teacher in a school, many people will be aware of it. However, the issue is that the people who know about it are other school staff (who may protect their fellow staff) or minor students (who don’t say anything). As such, resolving one student’s problems at a time, via parent conferences, verbal communication or email is critical (and necessary) to solve that student’s concerns. However, satisfying one parent or child may not move the needle to get a truly BAD teacher or school staff member handled adequately.
This is because school administrators may feel they don’t need to take further action against a terrible teacher once a parent is satisfied with a resolution. They may also be intimidated by teachers unions or may not actually know there is more to the teacher’s bad deeds.
Additionally, if a teacher’s file is bare- with no complaints- an administrator can later say “I got no complaints on this teacher- you are the first one with an issue.” This may or may not be technically accurate. But, if the file has no formal complaints how can anyone prove there were 30 other verbal complaints? The solution is to file complaints on teachers in writing via the district personnel complaint process, when warranted.
A Verbal Complaint is NOT 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 someone writes it down, did it really happen? Not for purposes of record keeping or teacher investigation. With oral communication, usually no physical records about the reported abuse are created. So, once concluded, the issue is soon forgotten. To remedy this, parents must follow through and file complaints in writing. This will ensure school abuse or other issues are documented and put into the appropriate school personnel files.
What Can Happen if No Formal Teacher Complaints Filed?
To illustrate, say Teacher A has abused or bullied dozens of students for 25 years, but only 3 families came forward with written complaints during that time, and no staff reported him. Perhaps 15 other students made verbal complaints, but there is no record of the 15 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 impacts to his child victims.
Because of the lack of formal complaints, the teacher may remain protected and undetected by the school or district, as there are only 3 formal complaints in over two decades. Had even half of the students targeted by Teacher A filed written complaints, perhaps Teacher A would now be in another profession like dog catching.
Request the Policies and the Complaint Form
It is usually very simple to file a personnel complaint. The 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 this information is on the school or district website as well. Then the parent simply completes the form with factual information and any proof, and submits it per the policy.
If the protocol is such that the complaint cannot be filed until the parent, for example, meets with the school staff or teacher involved, the principal, etc. then the parent would have to do so. These steps can be documented by sending confirmatory letters or email about the meetings and what occurred to the persons involved, the principal and the district.
Districts WANT Complaints on Bad Employees
I have actually been called by an attorney who represents districts asking whether I had any potential complaints on a teacher that the district was looking to terminate. As the district did not have enough WRITTEN complaints, there was not enough to terminate the teacher although the attorney thought the teacher should be terminated. This shows the importance of written complaints against terrible teachers.
If more parents filed written complaints, bad teachers might get thrown out.
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 complaints on conjecture, or rumor. Facts must be provided as well as any evidence gathered. Parents should stick with what is known and can be proven.
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.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
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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.