When In Doubt Go To The School District


Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Are you frustrated that your school’s Principal or Vice Principal are not listening nor acting adequately on your school complaints?  Are you being given a blank stare when you sit in the office telling your tale?  Is your child’s problem not being resolved?  When problems are not resolved at the school site, don’t forget the school district.
I have sat and consoled many parents who have complained to their child’s principal or other school staff about issues, such as continual bullying, targeting by a teacher, a dangerous situation on campus, issues with a student group, etc. to no avail.  The parents complain of getting nowhere, being treated like idiots or bothersome pests, and know their issues are not being taken seriously.  They are at a loss.
Often these parents do not know nor think to involve their school district.  I think some parents believe that their school district may reflect the same attitude as their school or that the district won’t give the parents any help.  It is possible no help will be forthcoming, but not always the case.  Often, a school district will try to help and they can even order the school to take action.  
Yes, I do hear from some parents that a district referred them right back to the school or that the district did not get back to them, but generally, districts are separated just enough from their schools to be somewhat objective in hearing parent complaints.
So, if everything is not immediately roses at the school and you can’t get anywhere, what do you do?  Here are some suggestions to get attention from the district (and maybe the school):
1)  Put your issues in writing, supporting them with specific facts and documentation (no wild unsupported accusations please), perhaps in the form of a factual summary and other attachments proving your point.
2)  Submit it to the District accompanied by a list of what you want to be done to resolve the situation.
3)  Submit in writing and cc via email.
4)  Request a meeting with the district staff regarding your issues and help with resolution.
5)  Follow up on your submission with a call if you don’t hear back in a reasonable time.
6)  Politely persist until you get a meeting with the district or feel the matter has been adequately handled.
You can also formalize your complaints to the district via internal complaint forms, and can even submit personnel complaints on the school staff (e.g. Principal or others).  Be mindful, however, that if you are deciding whether to file an internal complaint (with district/school), or to file with the United States Department of Education (USDOE), California Department of Education (CDE) or even your local grand jury, there may be limitations on whether those bodies will accept a complaint if a formal complaint is already proceeding at a district.  In other words, agencies don’t like to waste resources and accept a filing if another agency is already investigating.
If you get nowhere, or depending on how you want to proceed, you could also opt to get attention by having legal counsel send something in writing and/or bringing an attorney to a meeting (with advance notice).  If things ramp up when you contact a district, they will usually really ramp up when you bring in legal counsel.
Now, I won’t say that all districts you contact will do the right thing, will do what you want, or otherwise, but often parents who are not getting anywhere with the school administration will make some headway by involving the higher ups at their local school district, as these folks have the power to override school staff to get the job done and the matter handled.