Friday, February 25, 2011

Do You Have a Complaint About School Personnel or Teachers? Follow Through and File a Complaint

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

As the focus of my practice is solely to assist and resolve issues for students, I frequently hear complaints about teacher misconduct, school administrator failures, school personnel allegedly targeting a student and other problems involving specific school employees.  Although my main goal is to resolve matters for the specific student involved, there is something important which parents can do to help get rid of bad school personnel: file a written personnel complaint with the school and/or school district about the teacher, administrator, or staff member.

More Parents Need to Complain in Writing

If there is a bad apple in a school, resolving a single student's concerns, such as handling the bullying of student Joe Smith by Teacher A, may not result in Teacher A being terminated and/or being punished "enough" to solve the problem long term.  This is because school staff may believe that a single complaint means there was just one incident, when in fact there may be more widespread problems.  For example, Teacher A may have been targeting dozens of students for 25 years, but a mere 3 families came forward with written complaints in that time.  Perhaps 5 others made verbal complaints, but there is no record of the complaints as they were VERBAL so Teacher A continues snug in his position year after year.  Had even half of the students targeted by Teacher A filed written complaints, perhaps Teacher A would now be in another profession more appropriate for people of Teacher A's caliber.  

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  the person involved once and for all.  If enough parents complain, perhaps the bad apple will be terminated, demoted, transferred, or will change their tune. 

A Verbal Complaint is NOT Enough

Often parents make verbal complaints to schools about personnel who create problems.  Maybe the parent talks with a vice principal, or even meets with the principal and the problem is (or is not) solved.  However, with oral communication, usually no physical record of the issue, circumstances, or problem remains once it is resolved.  Rather, the issue only resides in the memory of those involved and may soon be forgotten.  So, parents must follow through and file complaints in writing.

Request the Policies and 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 for personnel complaints.  Often this information is on the school or district website as well.  Then the parent simply completes the form and submits it per the policy.  If the protocol is such that the complaint cannot be filed until the parent e.g. meets with the person involved, the principal, etc. then the parent should document what is going on by sending confirmatory letters of what occurred to the person involved, the principal and the district.  They may even try sending an extra copy for the "employees file."  Whether it will get filed or chucked is another story.

Districts Want Complaints on Improper Employees (though they may not know it!)

I have actually been called by an attorney who represents districts who I will leave nameless for obvious reasons.  He was inquiring 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.  Districts have to be very careful they have legal cause to terminate school personnel, lest they be sued.

Regardless, this is something which, if more parents filed written complaints, bad apples might get thrown out.  

One word of caution- be careful what you state in your complaint and be sure it is factually accurate.  You don't want to give the teacher, district, etc. cause to come after you for damaging someones reputation with wild stories.  Stick with what you know and can prove.

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page []. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.


  1. If my child teacher insist that he has ADHD to the point he get stressed out for having mental illness. Is it a good reason for complaint to the district?

    1. I think a better question is, why is he accusing your kid of having ADHD? Clearly he's not behaving in class or it wouldn't come to mind...

  2. Do you have a sample letter that I could use to file a complaint to the school board about the school secretary?


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