Law Office of Michelle Ball advocacy,parents rights How To Effectively Communicate With Your Child’s School

How To Effectively Communicate With Your Child’s School

Parents rights in schools

Last Updated on September 13, 2021 by Michelle Ball

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

Communication is such an important factor in life and can be the reason endeavors succeed or fail.  It is no less important in the school setting.  However, time and again I find myself speaking with parents who have hit a barrier in communicating with a student’s school.  Perhaps the school administration has stopped responding to parents on student issues, or does not take effective action on student complaints.  Maybe the parents are unable to persuade school staff that student issues exist at all.  This school breakdown happens due to inadequate or ineffective communication with the student’s school.

School Communication is DIFFERENT

Communicating in the school setting can be VERY unique, whether it be about a pending student expulsion or suspension, special education, a transfer or other issue.  Yes, there are straightforward school staffs who work with parents and life is good, but often this is not the case.  School administrators are sometimes nervous about committing to anything, admitting anything, or making firm and final decisions about students.  School staff can be arrogant and treat parents like they are the children they supervise.  

School communication needs to be effective
Do you sometimes feel that a school just doesn’t hear you? You need to speak their language first…

So, when parents communicate to school personnel the same way they talk to friends, family and “normal” people in life, they may get nowhere.  This is because schools are unique entities.  They are the government, first and foremost, and are not private businesses.  

Schools don’t always have direct accountability a typical employee would, for example, in a retail establishment.  As such, their jobs are usually not on the line and because of this, school staff just may not care.

Schools Have Hidden Factors Influencing Staff

Schools also are permeated by many hidden factors which influence them: long-established routines, personnel who have been around longer than some administrators, unwritten practices and procedures, teacher tenure making it difficult to have even troublesome teachers removed, teacher’s unions, lack of adequate supervision, dealing with their Board of Education which is a group of citizens with varying education levels, the media, attorneys, and on and on.  There is also often no clear “boss” or supervising entity overseeing the school district and no one holding them truly accountable. 

This has resulted in  parents with student complaints, needs and issues oftentimes being ignored, dismissed or minimized.  Or, a parent may find THEY or the student improperly become a target after a student complaint is lodged (e.g. retaliation).

Parents ARE Dealing with Politicians When Dealing With Schools

It can be extremely frustrating.  As such, I frequently find myself telling parents that they need to “act like politicians” when dealing with the school; that when they enter the school environment, they have entered the political sphere.  

What?  This is school, not politics!  Not so.  

Have you ever met with a senator or city council member and come away from the meeting not knowing what was said or what was agreed to?  Feeling you were heard and feeling better, but later realizing you don’t know the result of your communication or what will be done?  

Schools are often the same way.  Politicians usually want you happy, want your vote, but don’t necessarily take action on your individual complaint.  Same with school staff. They may listen and smile and reassure you, but may not take action on a student’s or parent’s problems.

School employees may be arrogant to parents
Are school employees talking down to you like they are kings or queens?

The School King or Queen

Parents may also encounter another type of school politician: the one who completely dismisses valid parent or student complaints as beneath the school official.  This school staff member may seem similar in attitude to a “king or queen,” who is unable to be challenged, and who views any parent or student as beneath them. Parents can actually feel like they are being treated like a child when approaching this type of school staff member with a student problem.

 Such encounters can send some parents back to memories of being 8 years old in the Principal’s office themselves.  It is not the way we, as adults, are used to being addressed by other adults.  

Whatever attitude parents get, it can be completely frustrating.  

To address this, parents just have to become skilled in the art of acting like and dealing effectively with politicians by acting like politicians themselves. Smile, be friendly, get agreement. But then, take the additional often forgotten step to follow through and get any agreement in writing.

If parents remember who they are dealing with at schools, this can be an easier goal to achieve.

Michelle Ball is a student lawyer assisting California parents and students with resolving school issues and complaints, effectively communicating with schools, resolving suspensions, expulsions and other matters. As a college, elementary, junior and high school attorney, Michelle may advocate across the state in towns such as Roseville, Auburn, Foresthill, Meadow Vista, Elk Grove, Laguna, Stockton, Lodi, Rio Vista, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno and many other places.