By: Debbie Rose
Debbie Rose is Of Counsel at WhitbeckBennett, focusing on assisting families and employees with K-12 education issues. Debbie grew up in California, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of California- Los Angeles. She then attended law school at Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa. To learn more about Debbie, click here.
6 Steps to Achieve a Successful Resolution with Your School
With the increased focus on education issues over the past two years, people have certainly become more informed about school policies, curriculum, and administration. And for many, what they have learned is that it is more important than ever to be constantly engaged in the process of policy development and administrative oversight. While public participation in education is growing, information about how to resolve conflicts regarding student discipline, special education, gifted services, and employment is lacking. In these situations, where a student’s education or an employee’s job status could be significantly impacted, there are some best practices you should follow to achieve a successful resolution.
As a member of the Loudoun County School Board for eight years, I was privileged to help many people with school conflicts and concerns. “This happened to my child, what do I do?” “The teacher/cafeteria worker/bus driver said something inappropriate, what do I do?” “Who do I call to complain?” “Aren’t they supposed to call me?” “What happens in an investigation?” “How can I get that?” “Can I appeal?” These were, and still are, common questions from people who don’t know where to start when something goes wrong at school. The steps provided below should be useful for most misunderstandings or minor mistakes by students and staff.
- Contact the Teacher or School. It is important to get the facts first. In many cases, there is more to the situation than the initial information relayed to a parent or fellow employee. And, when a school is made aware of a concerning incident, staff have an opportunity to correct the situation, provide additional staff training, or student support. Good students and staff make mistakes. Taking the time to get the facts and allow the parties to resolve a problem collaboratively benefits everyone.
- Review the Policy. School divisions have policies, regulations, and procedures which are usually available on their websites. These policies articulate the rules, rights, and responsibilities of employees, students, and parents or guardians. Being familiar with these policies before a problem or an incident occurs is highly recommended.
- Keep Good Records. Keep all communications and documents related to your concern or conflict. If a complaint is not resolved at the school level or with an immediate supervisor, having detailed records of the actions of all parties to the conflict will be important to protecting your rights going forward. Use caution with respect to student or employee records. Federal privacy laws protect those records from unlawful disclosure.
- Raise Your Concern with Administration or Appropriate Supervisors. If, after attempting to resolve your conflict or concern at the school level, you are not satisfied, raise your concern up to the appropriate person in the administration. Staff at this level usually have more authority to seek alternative solutions or reverse school staff decisions.
- Contact Your School Board Representative. You can contact your school board representative at any time! Most likely, your representative will encourage you to follow these best practices. School board members do not have any authority to make decisions regarding the application of policy to individual conflicts or complaints. However, board members can help you better understand the policies impacting the situation and assist you in reaching the right staff member to get a resolution to the problem. There is no question that when a problem is important to a board member, it becomes more important to staff.
- Never Feel Bad About Advocating for Your Child or Yourself. You know your child. You know when something isn’t right. You should never feel bad or intimidated about being a fierce advocate for your child or your situation as an employee.
While these steps are useful for most minor or even moderately serious concerns, there are cases when it becomes necessary to hire a third-party advocate or legal counsel. In these situations, hiring an experienced advocate in education is essential to protecting the rights of students, employees, and parents or guardians. As Of Counsel with WhitbeckBennett, I can provide experienced advocacy and support in cases like this. The priority of a school division is to educate students in a safe learning environment for all. However, when litigation is possible, school divisions protect themselves. And at that point, you should too.