Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Has your son or daughter told you they are being punished by school staff while other kids doing the same things are not? Do they complain often about being treated bad in class or being excluded by the teacher? Did you believe them? Should you?
As parents we know our children. We know they are fantastic, wonderful, amazing, and also that they can be troublemakers and sometimes make things up. We also naturally trust school staff as revered authority figures. The schools know this and use this to their advantage.
I know when I was a kid I never thought schools or school staff could do wrong. I thought schools were safe places and the staff would always help me. It is this viewpoint that keeps parents doubting their kids when they may actually be reporting a REAL problem. As parents we may tend to doubt them if they say a teacher wronged them, as we think: “Teacher X would never do that!” I am sorry to say, sometimes Teacher X may “do that.”
I have met with many parents who find their child is an inappropriate target of staff at their school. They have either been labelled a troublemaker, and are then blamed for everything happening around them; or a staff member just does not like them, and as a result picks on them or excludes them. Neither case is appropriate.
But what should a parent do about it? There are some basic steps which could help.
First, get all the information from your child on what is happening, who is involved, and the circumstances.
Next, investigate further. Can you schedule a visit to the classroom or campus to observe? Can you speak with staff about how your child is doing and what is going on in class? It is possible this may solve it.
If this does not put an end to the situation, a parent may want to have a meeting with the school administration to discuss. A written submission of the situation could be a good idea and daily email of issues may be needed to keep a record, as well as put the school on notice.
The District is a resource as well if things cannot be resolved at the school level.
Often I find that parents are not believed either, as school/district personnel may have the “No staff member would do wrong” syndrome. Schools also tend to believe their own staff over a parent, and definitely pick and choose when to believe a child. One minute the kid is the source of all knowledge (for example when they accuse another kid of selling drugs or bullying) and another time the child will not be believed when they are the victim. Who knows which time this is.
Ultimately, you may end up needing to file a formal investigation request and/or personnel complaint on the situation.
If all else fails, you can also seek an intradistrict transfer, but often for parents this is a last resort. However, your child and their safety is important and if things can’t or won’t get corrected, sometimes we need to do something else.
I think the message I have for parents is that you SHOULD listen to your kids on allegations they have. At least listen then investigate for yourself. Too much bad stuff goes on at school that parents find out too late. What I have heard over the past 20+ years from parents is enough to make any parent run far away from any school…. but I only hear the bad stuff and am a tad jaded as a result. There is plenty of good in schools, but we need to help our kids when they tell us something bad is occurring. As, oftentimes they may be right!
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
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.